Coronavirus Florida: Sarasota libraries adapting to changing needs

Patrons call to hear a friendly voice or get technical support for computer programs

Even with local library doors closed, Sarasota County librarians have been staying busy offering book and music suggestions, passing on technical help for people trying to use computer programs for the first time, making face masks and providing a human connection for those stuck alone during the pandemic.

“We have experienced people who call in and are perhaps a little lonely and just looking for someone to speak with,” said Renee DiPilato, who took over last fall as director of Sarasota County Libraries and Historical Resources. “They might ask us a question and linger on the phone a little longer and talk. We see where libraries provide that community for people, and as people are more isolated because of the virus, they want that human connection.”

Such calls are among the many that come in each day to the Ask the Library phone service at 941-861-1110. Patrons should be able to reach a live person from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and DiPilato said the service will be expanded to allow for computer chats with librarians.

“The telephone service is the same as it’s always been, but the big difference is that we’re doing a lot of assistance with using our digital resources for people who are new or exploring a platform they were unfamiliar with. The staff is spending time walking them through the digital services.”

Digital usage was already up about 35 percent in the county library system before the virus forced the buildings closed. “We’re still compiling numbers,” DiPilato said, “but we’re obviously expecting a much bigger jump in March for digital borrowing.”

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