Amherst’s Jones Library aims to document pandemic

  • Sharon Sharry is director of the Jones Library in Amherst. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 4/30/2020 12:37:00 PM

AMHERST — As people live through the COVID-19 pandemic, the Jones Library archive will be collecting first-hand accounts about the experience from Amherst residents and officials.

Library Director Sharon Sharry told the Town Council this week that the hope is to have people contribute to an understanding, for future generations, of what life has been like in spring 2020. 

“It’s the job of the Jones Library’s special collections department to document it,” Sharry said.

Library staff, she said, are developing an online questionnaire so people can provide details about their days, such as how they have gotten groceries, what they are doing for fun and how stay-at-home orders have changed their lives.

Sharry said a similar questionnaire is also being developed for town officials so they can outline the work they have done to keep the community safe.

Special collections will also be accepting photos of Amherst that can capture, in images, the changes to daily life caused by the pandemic, whether it be empty parking lots, locked playgrounds or closed signs posted on stores and buildings.

Although the Jones Library and the town’s two branches have been closed since mid-March, and will remain shuttered until at least May 18, Sharry said staff are continuing to provide services.

“Every day they are coming up with new ideas of virtually serving their patrons,” Sharry said.

But she acknowledged that without buildings being open, the library is mostly only able to serve the privileged in the community, rather than people from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Available services include streaming music and movies, downloadable e-books, magazines and newspapers, virtual interviews with authors, Zoom-based book discussions, youth social media challenges and ukulele strumalongs.

More challenging has been continuing the English as a Second Language program, with some participants, but not all, able to be part of Zoom meetings.

It’s unknown when the libraries will be able to reopen, but Sharry said the decision will be based on science and and advice from experts.

Reentry, as she calls it, will be in phases, including staff with staggered shifts wearing masks and gloves and remaining socially distant. Materials returned will be quarantined to make sure they are not carrying the virus, curbside pickup will be used for people interested in checking out items such as books and videos, and then there will be limited numbers allowed in the building and constant disinfecting of surfaces.

The last part of the reentry plan will be opening up for meetings and use of computers.

“At this point we have no idea what the timeline will be for this kind of phased approach,” Sharry said.

Due to the pandemic and the impact on the economy and stock markets, the Jones Inc. endowment has lost significant value. Sharry said the endowment was at $7.2 million on March 31, a steep decline from its $7.9 million value on Feb. 29. The endowment is used to support the library budget and the loss will be felt, Sharry said, but not for a couple of years due to how what is known as the “draw” is calculated. 

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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