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I would like to assure you that Minnesota’s residents are still receiving library services as they re-configure what “school,” “home” and “work” mean in their lives. In northeastern Minnesota, the Arrowhead Library System (ALS) and our member libraries continue to provide vital service people in the following ways:

ALS has provided a books-by-mail service in this region for nearly 50 years and the service has continued throughout this crisis, a lifeline of physical library materials with a great many of our customers living great distances from the nearest library. Our staff are taking extra precautions when handling materials, but Mail-A-Book is still “open.” The number of items borrowed from Mail-A-Book increased by 26% in March as compared to February!

Since 2007, ALS has provided library materials in electronic formats through our collection of e-books and downloadable audiobooks through the OverDrive platform. Even without the current crisis, usage of this collection typically grows 12-20% every year! We have accelerated spending down our annual materials budget to add more digital content in a short time, and we have taken funds from other budget programs to add even more content. In March, OverDrive checkouts increased by 12% over February, and we expect an even bigger growth in April. Discussions are underway with staff at the Minnesota Department of Education to re-direct other funds toward this high demand service.

 ALS also offers electronic magazine issues through the RBdigital platform. We have issues available from 124 different magazines. The number of checkouts of magazine issues increased by 17% in March as compared to February, and that growth is likely to continue as well.

ALS set up a library card application form on our website to allow people to easily apply for a card if they don’t have one or can’t remember if they already have one, and we have reallocated staff to complete the library card registration process as quickly as applications are received. We immediately contact applicants with their library card number, and a physical card is quickly mailed to them. We’ve already completed dozens of such applications to ensure that area residents can access electronic resources from home, work, or their digital devices.

We have not forgotten students. While many OverDrive titles are aimed at children and young adults, ALS is the only regional library system in Minnesota that provides a free collection of e-books specifically designed for school students. The collection is called MackinVIA and is available for any ALS member K-12 school library student in our 17,000 square mile service area at no cost to schools and school districts! This collection is funded by Multicounty, Multitype Library System funding through the Minnesota Legislature and the Minnesota Department of Education.

ALS also licenses the online “Homework Help” and “Career Planning” resources through Brainfuse. This service is available free to residents of our region and includes practice tests, assignments and, most importantly, live tutors that work with users.

Even though public libraries have necessarily had to lock their doors, many have kept their free public Wi-Fi accessible to the public without needing a password. Here at the ALS building in Mountain Iron, we have done the same.

While the ALS building has been closed to the public since March 20, ALS staff continue to perform our duties with many staff telecommuting to work from home. We continue to:

  • Maintain customer service and support operations for staff in all types of libraries and for library users needing to access online and digital resources such as Overdrive, MackinVIA, and RBdigital e-magazines.
  • Send out a weekly electronic newsletter to keep library staff informed about the expanding number of free resources available for library customers.
  • Coordinate and offer professional development courses for all area library staff to enhance library service.
  • Aggregate and disseminate to libraries and staff the ever-growing amount of information and resources about COVID-19.

Technology support personnel staff at ALS have adjusted computer systems to allow library patrons to still place holds for items that will be filled in the future when delivery of physical items can resume. They are also maintaining the computerized system that continues to provide reports so public and school libraries can serve the public and document their ongoing activities.

Library staff are still ordering and processing materials: 2,421 items have been added to the regional-wide collection since March 15.

We would like to ask your help in directing people to the available resources. An excellent place to start is the ALS website at:https://www.alslib.info/ From our website, we offer access to digital resources, library card applications, and Mail-A-Book service. The Weekly Weeder is the ALS electronic newsletter and we would be happy to subscribe you or one of your staff if you want to stay abreast of developments in our area libraries. ALS also maintains a Facebook page and a blog where we share helpful resources and news. We are always here to answer questions and serve as a resource for you and your staff.

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