From Book Delivery to Virtual Scavenger Hunts: How Arizona is Helping Libraries and Communities Stay Connected

Photo courtesy of Prescott Valley Public Library
Photo courtesy of Prescott Valley Public Library

“This project has truly underscored the value that libraries bring to their communities.” —Holly Henley, State Librarian and Director of Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records

As the summer begins to wind down and states are still responding to the threats posed by COVID-19, libraries are discovering new, creative approaches to reach their communities during this time of social distancing.

Thanks to CARES Act funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records—a division of the Secretary of State—is working to deliver educational devices and sanitation kits to more than 60 Arizona public school, community college, tribal, and public libraries, allowing them to provide both virtual and in-person service where appropriate.

In order to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, this project also includes expanding digital network access, purchasing internet-accessible devices, and providing technical support services to libraries so that they not only have the content they need and want, but also the tools to engage with it.

“These resources will help libraries across the state as they adapt to the changing needs of their communities, including an increasing reliance on technology,” said Holly Henley, State Librarian and Director of Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records. “Arizona libraries are shifting their service models to provide what is most needed right now.”

Providing Different Levels of Support

Arizona State Library development staff convened with Henley, as well as Administrator and Grants Manager Jaime Ball, to discuss how they could create funding opportunities for the libraries to best meet their goals. After talking with the libraries and brainstorming what activities they could offer, they developed three CARES Act funding opportunities to support Arizona residents through their libraries.

In the first funding phase opportunity, called CARES Express, 65 libraries from all 13 counties in Arizona that applied for an award collectively received 392 Chromebooks, 47 video equipment packages, and 224 sanitation kits. In addition to public libraries, recipients included school, community college, and tribal libraries.

“We are so grateful for CARES Express and what it has done for our library. It has opened the doors to provide more opportunities for virtual programs. We are so excited to use the new equipment,” reported Danielle Duran, Library Assistant at Coolidge Public Library. “We wouldn't have ever been able to provide the same quality of virtual services this equipment affords without this support.”

Although many of the supplies were backordered due to high demand nationwide, the project team moved forward with their plan, patiently waiting out the delay.

“It’s been really great being the connection between the grant and the libraries to get them what they need, and also to see how they’re working so hard right now to meet the needs of their communities,” said Henley. “Some staff have even been able to put their masks on and deliver the supplies in person.”

CARES Expanded, the second funding opportunity for Arizona libraries, awarded 51 grants to support Internet access, digital literacy, and other projects that respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some libraries are hosting podcasts, as well as planning to create virtual field trips, scavenger hunts, and live programming for local nursing homes. Others are producing weekly programs for youth, teens, and adults.

 Photo courtesy of Yuma County Library District.
Photo courtesy of Yuma County Library District

Work in Progress

Especially during a pandemic, partnerships are essential for small rural communities to stay connected. With physical locations closed to the community, it has become increasingly important for these libraries to maintain a connection with their usual visitors and continue providing educational opportunities for them.

The third funding opportunity, CARES Supplemental, focuses on library partnerships with museums and workforce development organizations.

“Programs such as these are what makes it possible for our staff to continue their work and reach out to their patrons during this difficult time,” reported Maria Gnagy, Grants and Special Projects Administrator at the Yuma County Library District. “Our library is thankful for the prompt distribution of these funds, the supplies, and the training offered to our staff.”

Henley, Ball, and their colleagues at Arizona State Library are continuously checking in with the libraries and eagerly waiting to report on outcomes as this grant project progresses into 2021.

About the Project

Grant Project Name: LSTA CARES ACT State Grants
Grant Log Number: LS-246520-OLS-20
Year Awarded: 2020
Recipient: Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records
Project Contact:
Holly Henley