Pioneer Library System celebrates National Library Week

Tina Bridenstine
The Shawnee News-Star
Celebrate National Library Week with Shawnee Public Library with this week's "Spark a Change" event and a book discussion.

National Library Week, April 4-10, has a theme of “Welcome to Your Library,” and this year patrons can join in on some virtual programs to help celebrate.

Two programs will kick off this week: the “Spark a Change” series and the PLS Reads Initiative, both tackling the issue of poverty.

“We look for topics that resonate at a local, state, and national level,” said Ashley Welke, director of community engagement and learning for PLS. “Poverty is unfortunately an issue that affects many. With the global pandemic and resulting impacts to the workforce – especially for part-time workers – we knew this topic was incredibly important.”

The “Spark a Change” series will kick off at noon, Thursday, April, 8, with Danne Johnson, JD, a professor at Oklahoma City University, who will lead the discussion on systems that cause poverty and how to help create a community without poverty. There will also be a follow-up discussion at 6:30 p.m., April 20.

“Johnson is the founder of Our Work, LLC, which strives to promote an anti-racism environment by bringing together people of all races into intersectionality to show and illuminate their humanity,” a PLS press release said.

Christian Potts, a spokesperson with the Pioneer Library System, said the PLS Reads Initiative takes place each year. Books are selected based on that year's topic, and then readers vote on which book to select for the year.

This year's selection is “The Other Wes Moore,” by Wes Moore, about two young men with the same name and the different paths their lives took.

There will be both physical and virtual copies of the book available, Potts said, and each of the book discussion groups (there are about 15 throughout the system) will talk about it during their monthly meeting. Beginning this month and going through November, there will be virtual community discussions on “The Other Wes Moore.” The first discussion will begin at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, April 8. The initiative will conclude with an event with the author.

“We don't know yet for sure if that will be in person or virtual,” Potts said. “That's going to depend on how things go.”

He said there will be other events added throughout the year, though whether they are in-person or virtual will depend on the changing situation with COVID-19.

Library programming, just like everything else, looks a little different since the outbreak of COVID-19.

Potts said libraries in the PLS system have had to go nearly all virtual with programming ever since the COVID shutdown in spring of 2020. Libraries were closed for about seven weeks, he said, before re-opening in phases.

“Libraries initiated curbside pickup of materials, with nearly 2,600 readers using the service in just the first six weeks it was offered,” a PLS press release said.

There was also a shift in technology, as PLS increased its virtual collection and put virtual programming into place, which led to a 999% increase in YouTube views and a 342% increase in views on Facebook videos.

Right now, PLS has reached a phase where all of the buildings are open at regular hours for patrons to browse and use public computers and wifi, though Potts said they encourage people to be thoughtful of staying socially distanced and keeping visits shorter.

Programs and events are still being done virtually rather than in person, though he said they're hopeful they will be able to get back to doing things in person again at some point.

PLS is getting ready to begin the summer learning challenge and summer events – which Potts described as being the library's most highly-attended events – and those, too, will be virtual for the second year in a row.

“We've just tried to be thoughtful of figuring out the best ways to keep serving our communities in a safe way, as it's had to be a little different from what we've done before,” he explained.

Still, Potts stressed that local libraries haven't gone anywhere, and though things may look different, they're still there to serve the community. These days, he said that might mean someone using library computers to get online to schedule a vaccine shot, or even getting help form library staff to do a virtual visit with a doctor.

The PLS system has also tried to help out with pandemic efforts. They were able to donate almost 4,000 hand-made masks to different community organizations. And, when the buildings were shut down and the 3D printers they owned weren't able to be used by local patrons, the libraries used them to make parts for more than 570 face coverings to donate to hospitals for health care workers and patients.

“Libraries have been doing great things,” Potts said. “We've been doing different sorts of things from what you're used to, but we've been trying to keep our fingers on the pulse of what's going on in our communities and what those needs are.”

According to a PLS press release, there are 12 branches of the library in 10 communities (including Shawnee, Tecumseh and McLoud), serving a population of nearly 400,000 residents.

For more information, or to see a calendar of events or sign up for a virtual event, go to pioneerlibrarysystem.org/

Tina Bridenstine is a reporter for The Shawnee News-Star. She can be reached at tina.bridenstine@news-star.com or 405-214-3934. Follow her on Twitter @tbridenstine1