COVID-19’s determination to linger necessitates continued safety protocols at the Cleburne Public Library, but staff members remain equally determined in their fashioning of novel ways to ensure programming and services for patrons of all ages and interests.

“We continue to recommend wearing masks; continue to practice social distancing in the library,” Youth Librarian Rachel Slimp said. “But we’re also coming up with ways to do as much as we can within the parameters we have to work with until [COVID-19] starts to subside.

Library Manager Tina Dunham said she and all at the library long for that day to come but also took opportunity to spread word that the library is open to the public — has been since June — and continues to offer a number of programs and activities in addition book and other materials check outs and research assistance.

One of the library’s popular and fairly frequent programs brought notable authors to Cleburne, a series Dunham called much missed and one she hopes to see return soon. For now, however, the library’s bringing author Regina Jennings  to town via the virtual route.

Jennings and the library will host a free virtual event from 7-8 p.m. Monday. To register, visit the library at 302 W. Henderson St. or call 807-645-0934.

A historical romance writer in the Christian fiction genre, Jennings has penned 13 books and two novellas. Jennings earned an English degree with a minor in history from Oklahoma Baptist University. Previously, she worked at Mustang News, the Oklahoma National Stockyard and with various livestock shows. 

As an author, Jennings has won the National Reader’s Choice Award and twice been named finalist for the Golden Quill Award in addition to having been named a finalist for both the Oklahoma Book of the Year and Christy awards.

“Courting Misfortune,” Jennings’ latest book, details the exploits of female Pinkerton operative Calista York.

“[Jennings] did a lot of research on Pinkerton agents and plans to talk about that and other topics during her Zoom presentation,” Slimp said.

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Cycling back to normal

The library reopened last summer in phases.

“For instance, we were closed Thursdays originally,” Slimp said. “Now we’re open 1-6 p.m. Thursdays and working back toward normal hours that day. We opened at 25 percent capacity then went to 50 percent, now 70 percent.”

Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent decision to reopen the state brings hope for an eventual return to normalcy, library staff said, but added that the library continues to transition back step by step to ensure everyone’s safety.

Reopening has proved a relief to patrons and staff.

“We got a lot of phone calls when we were closed [because of the pandemic] from people asking when we’re going to open again,” Slimp said. “Once we reopened again people would come in just saying how happy they are that we’re back. So there’s been very much the feeling that the community appreciates us being here and having access to us.”

During the shutdown period staff offered various online services as well as curb side book check out.

“It was a strange year and we missed that interaction with our patrons and the author appearances and other events,” Dunham said.

While patrons may visit the library to check books, DVDs and other material out, other activities may also be conducted in person while others, for the time being, cannot but remain available in other forms.

“We worked to come up with ways, with the different restrictions that have been in place because of COVID-19, to come up with different things we can offer and provide to the community,” Slimp said. 

The library’s Maker Corner, a grant-funded dedicated space for stimulation of community creativity through exploration, development and building opportunities is open to the public albeit limited to class sizes of five people for now.

A knitting class proved so popular that two more had to be added. 

Other popular activities include sewing machines, a VHS converter, photo printer, Cricut Maker and more. Dunham said staff hopes to be able to increase class sizes and presentations soon.

The Maker Room is geared toward patrons 14 and up. Patrons may use much of the equipment themselves provided they  sign a waiver and policy sheet, sign up for equipment training, show proficiency on the equipment, make an appointment and have a Cleburne library card.

Book club members still meet in person but story times for children have been paused. 

“I did stories online for a while but you run into a lot of copyright restriction issues on that,” Slimp said. “So I would often do songs or stories that didn’t require me to read a book until the end of last year in anticipation of things opening up in 2021. So the story times are postponed for now. Instead I came up with a Friday event called Book Look where I make recommendations on books or book series people might want to come check out to read at home. But we’re monitoring the situation to see when we can get back to in-person story times both with our staff and the Cleburne police officers.”

Book Look posts at 10 a.m. each Friday on the library’s Facebook page.

Staff have also crafted monthly grab-and-go kits for children and teens, which include various at-home projects as well as reading recommendations. 

Book Buzz, the library’s monthly newsletter, includes Tailored Titles, a list of book recommendations for teens and adults.

“It’s a new thing with a different theme each month,” Dunham said. “The March theme is, ‘If you like thrillers, try these titles.’ Next month will be a different theme.”

Dunham and Slimp urge patrons to check out the newsletter, and the library’s Facebook page, for information on upcoming events and programs.

Other projects, such as a spring planting garden, as designed to be held outside to allow for more community participation. 

Patrons throughout the month are invited to pick up a blank poster board at the library then take it home to decorate in the style of their favorite book cover then return it to hang in the library’s hallway gallery.

The library’s popular summer reading program will return though participation details are still being worked out. 

Computer classes continue from 2-3 p.m. Tuesdays at the Booker T. Washington Recreation Center, 100 Mansfield Road. For information and registration, call 817-645-0934.

Library staff, in conjunction with others, continue their Cleburne newspaper digitization project. The library received a $25,000 TexTreasures grant from the Texas State Library & Archives Commission and the Institute of Museum and Library Services in August. Many issues of the Cleburne Times-Review have been digitized and placed on the Portal to Texas History website. The free site contains hundreds of back issues of Texas newspapers and other publications. Plans call for digitizing additional issues of the Times-Review and other historic Cleburne newspapers.

Others participating in the ongoing project include: Layland Museum, the Johnson County Courthouse Museum, Johnson County Genealogical Society and the Johnson County Historical Commission.



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