Steamboat library usage skyrockets in year of pandemic

Amelia Morris, 5, uses the computers in the children's area at the Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs. Morris, who is is kindergarten, was at the library with mom Wallie and little sister Ella. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Bud Werner Memorial Library may have had to close its doors for a time during the pandemic, but business is booming — maybe even more so than usual. It was March 15, 2020, when the library closed completely; they would remain closed until July 20, 2020.

“During that time, like most businesses and organizations, we quickly had to pivot to figure out how to get books and other library materials to people when they couldn’t physically come into the building to get them,” explained Chris Painter, library director.

The library’s solution, like many restaurants in town, was curbside pickup. People could request materials online or over the phone, and the library would have those items ready to be picked up outside of the library during certain hours. In 2020, they conducted 4,443 curbside transactions, checking out 12,715 books, DVDs and CDs to the community.

Digital usage increased as well.

“We were fortunate when the pandemic hit as we had invested significantly in our digital library collections that today feature almost one million items ranging from traditional materials, like books, audiobooks, movies, music and magazines to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times online,” Painter said.

Michelle Dover and Cameron McVey behind the scenes of Bud Werner Memorial Library's curbside pick-up program. (Michele Dover/courtesy)

COVID-19 elevated the popularity of the library’s digital collections, or what they refer to as the “Virtual Library Branch,” by 48%. Since last March, an average of 2,200 users borrowed over 9,600 items each month, all from the convenience of home. Prior to the pandemic, lending through the virtual branch represented 26% of the total materials the library loaned, but today, it is closer to 50%.

Aside from books, the library hosts multiple events every month that all had to shift to a virtual format.

“We switched gears really quickly,” said Jennie Lay, adult programs coordinator. “March is always a really busy month for us, and after canceling everything on the calendar, we kicked it back into gear with virtual events starting that April.”

Lay remembers their Master Gardener event as being one of the first they offered virtually.

“We had gigantic participation, more than we’ve ever seen before,” she said.

In the year that followed, that level of participation didn’t drop off either.

“We had never even thought about doing virtual events before, so there was some trial and error,” Lay said. “But our numbers are strong, and participation has been strong all the way through. To see the success of virtual has been interesting. My hope is that there are people who discovered the joys of the library in a virtual capacity and then might decide to walk through our doors in the future.”

One example Lay cites involves LUNAFEST, a traveling film festival featuring award-winning short films made by women.

“When we did this event virtually last fall, we saw a huge increase in participation and realized that we were reaching different audiences than what we might expect in person,” Lay said.

LUNAFEST returns this weekend, and Lay said the library has seen both men and women sign up to view the film festival, when in the past it would, typically, be primarily women who attended the event.

Now, one year from the start of the pandemic, the library’s doors are open to the public again, although capacity is still at 50%. While Painter said she doesn’t have solid data to substantiate the fact that people started to read more during the pandemic, she believes readers were seeking escape and comfort more than anything.

“We all craved stories with happy endings,” she said. “Breezy and fun romance reads grew in popularity, too.”

She points out that the library’s One Book Steamboat community reads for 2020, which were “How to Be an Antiracist”, “Stamped” and “Antiracist Baby” — three books meant to span generations and spur family conversations while people were home together — were all strongly represented on the library’s top 10 lists, as readers were more willing and eager to explore the difficult social and political issues that the country faced in the past year.

“Overall, I would say it has been a mix of readers finding comfort in retreat and seeking a framework for understanding the world that we live in today,” she said.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User