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Libraries provide virtual services during pandemic shutdown –

by Audrey Partington

Special to The Greater Olney News

While area library buildings are physically closed due to the pandemic, Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL) is open for business virtually.

By logging on to the MCPL website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/library, patrons can find all the usual electronic resources — e-books, e-magazines, e-audio books, online learning programs, movies and video — along with many others that have been adapted for online use.

“It was astonishing to see how quickly our staff was able to shift to the virtual environment for programming,” said Anita Vassallo, director of Montgomery County Public Libraries. “We closed our buildings to the public on Monday, March 16, and our first virtual program, a storytime, took place on March 23. Each week since then we have scheduled about 50 virtual events of all types. MCPL staff has embraced this new way of reaching out to the community, and it’s just wonderful.”


What’s new


Use of the library’s online resources require a valid library card (identification number and pin code). For those without a physical library card, MCPL now offers a Digital Library Card to download library resources.

To register, go to https://mcpl.link/DigitalCard or click on the “Services” tab on the MCPL website and select “Get a Library Card.”

When the libraries re-open, the Digital Library Card can be exchanged for a full-service physical library card at any MCPL library (with a photo ID and proof of address).

A new electronic resource, Hoopla, provides access to e-books, audiobooks, movies, music, and TV shows, which can be downloaded to computers, phones, tablets and televisions.

Hoopla allows an unlimited number of users to access the same item simultaneously, so there are no waiting lists.

Library events for all age groups, which were previously held at branch libraries, are now being held virtually, using the online meeting application “Zoom” (available for free download on the App Store).

Storytimes for babies and toddlers are also being held virtually, as is the popular “Read to a Dog” program, courtesy of the People Animals Love organization.

The county’s Bone Builders program, which is popular with seniors, is now offered virtually. Seniors can also participate in virtual health and wellness programs such as how to avoid getting COVID-19.

For information on resources for seniors, visit www.montgomerycountymd.gov/library/for-you/seniors.html.

Adults with preschoolers can take part in the initiative that recommends that parents read “1,000 Books Before Kindergarten” to their children to prepare them for school, which is supported by the library with resources at https://mcpl.link/1000Books.

The library is a lifeline for the immigrant population. Resources such as English Conversation Classes are now being offered via Zoom.

“The reactions from our group members have been overwhelming,” said Olney resident Nina Uzick, who has led the English Conversation Class at Olney Library and now virtually. She became emotional upon seeing the group “all together” online.

“Here we have people with limited English skills, who are away from friends and family, and are locked down in a strange place. Participants are from Nepal, China, South Korea, Peru, Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala and Italy, to name just a few of their native countries. Their humor, resilience and positive attitudes are inspirational.”

As for the Olney Library’s future plans, Olney Library Manager Jan Baird-Adams said, “We are hard at work planning to operate with a new normal, whenever MCPL reopens.”


Summer Reading Program reimagined


With a theme of “Imagine Your Story,” Montgomery County Public Libraries’ 2020 Summer Read and Learn Program is scheduled to begin on June 15.

The library system staff used its imagination to transition the popular program to a virtual experience in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic and the closure of the county’s library buildings.

The result is a Summer Reading Program that will function a bit differently than before, while retaining most of the same elements that preschoolers and students in kindergarten through grade 12 have enjoyed in the past.

They include activity gameboards for children up to age 5 and 6-12 years old, opportunities to earn badges and a Certificate of Program Completion (all available online).

Participants who complete all of the activities will earn “Champion” badges and bags from library branches (when they re-open), which will include a free book voucher from the Friends of the Library bookstores and two prizes.

They will also be enrolled in raffles for admission to the Maryland Science Center and KID Museum. The drawing will be held on Sept. 5.

As in the past, the program will provide reading lists selected by librarians for children of all ages. The titles are available on the library’s website as downloadable e-books or e-audiobooks.

An electronic resource known as TumbleBooks offers animated, talking picture books, videos and e-books in English, French and Spanish. If the libraries re-open during the summer, curbside pick-up of books may be offered.

Programs like storytelling, music shows, craft programs, STEM events and books clubs will be offered virtually via Zoom. All virtual programs will be posted on Montgomery County Public Libraries’ online calendar of events.

Summer programming will begin on June 15 with a virtual puppet show at 11 a.m. and an interactive Spanish language and Latin American culture performance led by 123 Con Andres at 5 p.m.

The Virtual Celebrate Summer Reading Kickoff, set for 2 p.m. June 18 and featuring percussionist Luis Garay, will introduce all age groups to a variety of exotic instruments from various cultures.

To sign up for the Summer Reading Program, visit MCPL’s website beginning June 15.

A library card is not required to participate in the Summer Reading Program, but will be needed to download library materials. Those without a physical library card can obtain the new Digital Library Card on the MCPL website. When libraries re-open, they can be exchanged for a full-service physical library card at any library branch.


Free resources for Internet access


Chromebooks are available for pickup from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. weekdays outside the Montgomery County Public Schools office at 45 W. Gude Drive in Rockville. Those attending must wear a face mask and take the student’s ID number.

As part of Comcast’s COVID 19 response, Comcast’s Xfinity Outdoor WiFi hotspots are available for free to anyone who needs them. For a map of Xfinity Outdoor WiFi hotspots, visit www.xfinity.com/wifi.

Print-outs of Summer Reading Program materials, such as gameboards and book lists, will be available for curbside pick-up at library branches when that service becomes available.

The MCPL Summer Read and Learn program, which will run through Aug. 31, is sponsored by Friends of the Library, Montgomery County, and Friends of the Library, Local Branch Chapters.


Other services


MCPL is taking the following steps until further notice to make sure its customers are not unduly impacted by the shutdown:

The suspension of library fines

The extension of all due dates

The suspension of fulfillment of holds

The extension of all holds currently waiting for pickup


    Submit questions about a library account via phone at 240-777-0005 or by email at [email protected].

    Submit questions about materials and services via phone at 240-777-0001 or through the Ask-A-Librarian service at https://montgomerycountymd.libanswers.com/.

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