Crookston Library emerging from pandemic with new services and amenities that will remain

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    When Crookston Public Library Branch Manager Chris Boike talks about the COVID-19 pandemic’s widespread, devastating impact in 2020, she doesn’t mince words.

    “I mean, it was the worst, right?” she said. “Wouldn’t you agree it was one of the worst years ever?”

    But it’s not impossible to find some silver linings, even in a pandemic that kills millions worldwide and almost 600,000 people, and counting, in the United States. Things like families stuck at home growing closer, and rediscovering nature and the great outdoors and all of the activities outside that they can partake in, even during a pandemic. And, forced to find new, helpful resources in their communities, people turned to places like their local library.

    Then there’s money, specifically, a massive increase in financial support from the federal government as part of an overall effort to keep society and the economy afloat when the pandemic forced so many places to shutter business, commerce and just about everything else. Those federal funds have been allocated to states, and from there the money has been funneled into counties and cities, and the resulting benefits have been obvious.

    At the Crookston branch of Lake Agassiz Regional Library, where normal, pre-pandemic hours of operation have resumed and the staff is once again whole, Boike said many of the pandemic-necessitated services, functions and amenities added over the past year or so are going to remain, even after the pandemic subsides once and for all.

    “It’s been a long year, to say the least, but we’ve managed to really enhance our services and make critical improvements,” she said. “It’s amazing, what we’ve been able to do.”

    The reality is that when budgets start to get tight, things like public libraries are often among the first asked to do more with less, or at least be happy with flat-lined funding. But that reality, Boike said, has in some ways been replaced of late by things she could only dream of adding to the library actually coming to fruition. And many of those things aren’t going anywhere, post-pandemic.

    For instance:

    • Curbside service added during the pandemic will remain.

    • The library has added an online app for people to get new, electronic library cards.

    • Digital streaming for eBooks, music and movies has been added.

    • Wifi hotspots have been added in the building.

    • Wireless printing is available.

    • Virtual programming has been added, since no in-house programs were/are possible during the pandemic. (Boike said the hope is that in-house programs resume in the fall.)

    • Sunshine Storytime has resumed every Thursday at 10:30 a.m., outside, in front of the library.

    • E-magazines have been added.

    • Six laptop kits, including a ChromeBook, mouse and a wifi hot spot, have been added. (Crookston is the only LARL branch currently launching the laptop kit pilot program, Boike said.)

    • New library partners have been added and will remain, such as Career Force and Northwestern Mental Health Center. (NWMHC is meeting clients at the library, Boike noted.)

    • A private, “legal kiosk” has been added in a converted storage room, where people can do things like meet virtually with their attorney and download and print legal documents, etc.

    Boike is hopeful the renewed spirit of investment in public libraries will continue. She said she’s grateful to District 1 State Sen. Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks) for authoring legislation that would increase by $2 million funding for regional libraries and would also change the formula that determines library funding. The bill, both the Minnesota Senate version and another version in the Minnesota House, has advanced further in the 2021 legislative session than it ever has before, Boike said, adding that state funding for libraries hasn’t increased since 2008.

    “We’re very excited and hopeful” that a bill with a funding increase will be signed by the governor.

    Meanwhile, Boike said she’s working with City of Crookston Administrator Amy Finch to craft a “reasonable” fiscal plan for the library going forward, specifically in regard to exterior improvements to the building. She also mentioned Crookston School District Superintendent Jeremy Olson of being especially supportive of the Crookston Library.

    Ward 4 Crookston City Council Member Clayton Briggs serves on both the local library board and the Lake Agassiz Regional Library Board. He said the pandemic has opened people’s eyes when it comes to seeing the critical role their libraries play in their communities.

    “I think people realize more than ever how important they are,” he said, “especially in a community the size of Crookston.”

Chris Boike, branch manager of Lake Agassiz Regional Library System’s Crookston Public Library, explains some of the functions and capabilities of the library’s new “legal kiosk.” It’s a private space created during the COVID-19 pandemic in what was once a storage room.