Trumbull library prepares to reopen after 3-month shutdown

TRUMBULL — Even as the library prepares to return to allowing limited in-person visits Monday, Director Stefan Lyhne-Nielsen said some of the changes made as a concession to COVID-19 will likely remain. Just as the online book catalog replaced the old-school card catalog, technology has shown that some things just work better digitally.

“For example, we are still doing our daily programs like storytimes online, but even when people can resume in-person programs, some of them likely will remain online,” Lyhne-Nielsen said. “For something like a bedtime story hour, it just makes more sense to be able to turn the computer off and put your child in bed rather than having to put them in the car and drive home.”

The library will be open from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays, and plans to expand to Saturday afternoons on March 13. The sitting areas, computers and meeting rooms will remain off-limits, and in-person library programs likely will be among the last things to reopen. Curbside service will remain an option between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Still, for many people there’s nothing like walking into a library and browsing the stacks, or to use the building as a quiet escape from the daily hustle, Lyhne-Nielsen said.

“It’s all about giving the community greater access,” he said. “Whether you’re a student that likes to come in and find a quiet place and study, or someone who likes to wander and browse — that can be a toddler looking for a bedtime book or an adult who wants the latest bestseller. Everyone misses the experience of being in a library.”

Although libraries are often thought of as relaxing places, that has not been the case in the past year, Lyhne-Nielsen said. After closing to the public in mid-March, the library reopened for curbside pickup and drop-off only in June. By September, the library was once again welcoming in-person browsers, only to be forced back to curbside service in November as COVID-19 cases surged statewide.

Dspite its brevity, the fall reopening encouraged library staff. Traffic grew steadily, even without programs like story hours and game clubs. By the time the library closed again, Lyhne-Nielsen said daily traffic was hovering around 100 visitors.

“Our business was very good during the time we were open, and even then we were continuing with the curbside service too,” he said.

During the pandemic, libraries began to evolve as readers changed their habits. In the early days, Lyhne-Nielsen said people began reserving more pop culture titles. Since they could not browse for a book, they turned more toward the bestseller list for titles. Cookbooks also became prized as readers grew more experimental in the kitchen as the quarantine dragged on.

Now, demand is moving toward more digital options, including podcasts, which library trustee Julia McNamee said she was excited about.

“It’s like a book club, but for podcasts. You all listen to a podcast then get together and discuss it,” she said.

McNamee said she was especially interested in a podcast called “Floodlines,” which focused on the on-the-ground reporting and urban legends surrounding Hurricane Katrina.

Lyhne-Nielsen said podcasts had evolved into high-level work featuring conversations and interviews with key people, all recorded on quality equipment. “Floodlines,” an 8-part series, was produced by The Atlantic, a literary and political magazine.

“Obviously, it’s such a reputable magazine,” she said. “I had to stop myself and just listen to the first two parts so as not to get ahead of the discussion.”

Lyhne-Nielsen said the format of podcasts — short episodes that focus on a specific aspect of a larger story — lent itself well to consumption during a quarantine. People listen to the podcasts while they are driving or doing work around the house, he said.

“It’s like a Ken Burns documentary for your ears when you’re driving,” he said.

Research librarian and podcast listener Kathleen Fieffe said the Trumbull group came about during the George Floyd protests when the New York Times podcast “1619,” a series about slavery’s legacy on the United States, raised interest in podcasts among people who previously had little interest in them. Fieffe began hosting an online discussion.

“We got a great group and people actually showed up, and a lot of people maintained their interest,” Fieffe said.

After “Floodlines,” Fieffe said there were nearly limitless possibilities for the next discussion.

“There’s literally something for everyone,” she said. “If you like history, pop culture, true crime. And the great thing is the episodes are usually 20, 30 minutes long. So instead of an audibook that you would listen to on your road trip to the Grand Canyon, you can listen to a podcast on your daily commute, then come join the discussion.”