Library adapts to serve community during pandemic

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OKEECHOBEE — For the past six months, the Okeechobee Public Library has found new ways to serve the community.

At the Sept. 11 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission, Library Director Kresta King asked the commission to approve her plan to reorganize the library staff to continue to provide more community outreach. The reorganization will not increase the library’s budget.

This summer, with the library building closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, library personnel moved their summer reading program outdoors to county parks, as well as online, and maintained good participation levels. In 2019, the 3,700 children participated in the library’s summer programs inside the library building. In 2020, the summer reading program served 3,400 children in the parks and online.

Little public libraries — such as a new one at the sports complex — are making books more accessible.

The library continues to help people complete the census.

Recently the library started offering free WiFi hot spots that library patrons can check out and take home for two weeks. That program was immediately popular, King explained.

The library has 20 of the hot spot devices and currently there are nine people on the waiting list to check them out.

“We don’t charge for them, we let people use them for free,” she said. A single hot spot can connect up to five devices to the internet, but the more computers or phones connected to the WiFi, the slower it is, she added.

Patrons can check the devices out for two weeks, just like a book, she explained. “On the 15th day, we deactivate it. That has been very effective. They bring them back the next day.”

She said when they bring the device back, they cannot check it out again immediately because others are on the waiting list.

She said the devices are in high demand by those who do not have internet access at home and need to go online for school assignments, to apply for stimulus funds, or to fill out their census.

“The hot spots have been very heavily used. We need to get more,” she said.

T-Mobile provided the devices for free, she continued, and they used the state contract to get data for $10 a month.

In addition, patrons can use free WiFi in the library parking lot 24 hours a day.

The library is also a school lunch distribution spot.

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