2020 Evy Nordley Finalist #3: Friends of the Brainerd Public Library

With an easy return to pre-pandemic “normalcy” seeming less and less likely, more and more libraries are doubling down on virtual storytimes for their youngest patrons. Large and nationally reputed libraries like New York City and San Francisco have enjoyed the limelight over the past several months for their rapid adoption and perfection of this new style of programming. However, as parents and tots across central Minnesota can attest, the Friends of the Brainerd Public Library have been right there with the Big Boys from the beginning.

brainerd.pngThe beginning, for all intents and purposes, was mid-March 2020. Long-time board member Sheila DeChantal landed on the concept as the perfect way to keep kids engaged with their Library during the unprecedented facility closure.

In a lightning fast turnaround, “Reading with Friends” moved from idea stage to implementation after just one brainstorm meeting and several frenzied calls with possible readers.

Fortunately for DeChantal, she had a ready short list of qualified prospects to tap. For the past eight years, The Friends in Brainerd have coordinated Wine and Words – a hugely successful gala featuring popular authors hailing from across Minnesota and beyond. Wine and Word “alumni” including Barbara Claypole White, Kristina McMorris, and Heather Gudenkauf volunteered to take early shifts. DeChantal herself took the inaugural morning slot on March 23, with the apropos selection “The Night Library” by David Zeltser.

Hungry for content, families tuned in – to the tune of 200-1,200 hits per episode. These impressive figures factor in views of recordings available after the time of original broadcast. Ready availability of that archive is a prime reason that The Friends tapped Facebook Live for their livestream needs.

facebooklive.pngThese numbers augured well. “While we did not place ads, we received newspaper and radio coverage for what we were doing, because it was one of the first programs back up and running in our community after COVID hit,” explained DeChantal.

Once the program gained momentum in this way, volunteers came out of the woodwork to apply. Between March and May, readers representing community organizations as diverse as the YMCA, United Way, and Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce put themselves forward. Naturally, library staff and Friends leaders also took a turn – or two.

Daily story times (excluding Sundays) concluded May 2. During this run, nearly 70 videos racked up an impressive 27,881 hits. Moreover, the Friends of the Brainerd Public Library grew their Facebook following nearly 50 percent: from 724 to 1,059.

In other ways, the dividends are harder to quantify. “We now have people checking in to see what we’re doing next,” DeChantal noted. The Friends parlayed some of that interest into views in their summer experiment: a series of Brown Bag Virtual Author Visits featuring award-winning novelists like Peter Geye, Brian Freeman, and Sarah Stonich.