Dawn Wacek | La Crosse, WI
As a child, I was the oldest of four and we were lower-income and moved a lot, so the library in any new town was always a place that felt safe and welcoming for me. I was a big reader and loved that access to books we would never be able to buy.
I am the Youth Services Manager at the La Crosse Public Library. I’ve been a librarian for sixteen years and I love forming a connection with our community. I love getting to know who is using the library, why they come, and how I can serve them better. I also like digging into barriers that people find in accessing libraries: How can we help people overcome issues like fines, transportation, literacy, or offer their children the best in free literature and programming, and make their life in this community the best it can be?
There’s been a shift in libraries from “keepers of knowledge” concerned with protecting a collection, to the realization that this field is really about service to communities. Since Covid hit, we have gone from interacting with hundreds of people per day to a handful. It’s been challenging to find ways to serve everyone’s needs when we can’t have them in the building.
We had a couple of mistakes right off the bat. Our first new skill was using Facebook live for story times. Learning how to flip our screen or help people cast the videos to their television sets made a difference. As time went on, we wanted more interaction with our audience, so we incorporated Zoom programming. One staff member taught herself beginner’s editing in order for us to offer Books Brought to Life—live action and puppet interpretations of favorite titles.
We had to learn new skills to provide better digital content, as well as find ways to reach folks who don’t have the luxury of accessing everything digitally. For those without WIFI, we offered scavenger hunts at several of our local parks and created grab and go craft bags. We are planning more outreach services to neighborhoods with WIFI printers and laptops and small browsing collections to check out. I’m both proud of what we’ve been able to do as we adapted, but also concerned that we are missing people who really need us. It’s a tough balance.
Libraries have always been a place of community, even after having to shut down. The best reflection of this is the number of parents who told us that our Kids Book Bundles and Weekly Craft Kits helped them create a sense of normalcy and structure for their kids. We also heard from a lot of elderly patrons who live alone about how those materials and the conversations they had with us over the phone helped with the isolation they were feeling.
We are looking ahead to reopening the library now and considering how we can do so the safest way possible. We’ve definitely had positive interactions in the meantime though. Parents will send us photos of their kids enjoying books we’ve selected or participating in our scavenger hunts. Our Zoom story times have been rewarding because we can actually see our audience again. Every day patrons walk in our doors to pick up holds or use the computer; they tell us how grateful they are to have these small services and that they can see how hard we are working to provide for them and keep everyone safe.
My hope is that through this we all learn more compassion and empathy. We’ve heard a lot of stories about people losing jobs, losing homes, not having what they need to survive. We’ve also seen an uptick in community activism following the murder of George Floyd. I think most people want to be part of changing the world for the better and I can’t help but think of the many ways libraries make this happen. Education breeds empathy and I think that work can continue despite the limitations of Covid.
Dawn’s story is part of Love Wisconsin’s Covid-19 series. Through this series we are featuring shorter stories to offer a time capsule into life in Wisconsin during this extraordinary time.