by Sharon Tausch
Dystopian novels are among Morgan County Library Director Stacey Embry’s favorite reads. Never, however, had she ever imagined she would be living in quarantine and communicating with others who are in self-isolation as is described in Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451.”

Written in 1953, Bradbury’s tale begins by describing a community of mandatory isolation in which its members are not allowed outside their homes and must communicate with each other through interactive digital wall screens. Human digital interaction, exercise classes, book club meetings and cooking classes were projected into living rooms. Public gatherings and working outside the home were prohibited.
This is beginning to sound like the times in which society is living during the global COVID-19 pandemic. However, one thing is different for Embry. While she, like nearly everyone else in America at this time, is in self-isolation due to the COVID-19 virus, her reading and video material is not censored, and thanks to the efforts of librarians everywhere, neither is anyone else’s.

Working part-time and from home as long as total isolation has not been declared mandatory, Embry is doing her best to make sure Morgan County readers and students working from home get the information they need from the local library without interruption.
“Although we have had to cancel all programming that calls for library patrons to be in one room at once, we are still doing what we can to provide the community and surrounding areas with research and reading requests,” said Embry. “We are trying to offer as much as we can, including extending times for books being returned. No one has to return anything now, and we’ve gone down to one employee at the library in an attempt to comply with the CDC [Center for Disease Control].”

Embry said there are countless e-books and videos available for streaming. For those who do not have computers or computer access, books and other media items that go out and come back in are disinfected and are allowed to “rest” four days before being moved or allowed to go out.

“We’re trying to offer as much as we can to everyone out there, especially to students of all ages who must rely on technology to comply with their remote learning procedures.”

Students and adults who have research questions may go to the library website at morgancountylibrary.org, fill out a form and submit it, keeping in mind to allow additional time when the library is closed. A few of the programs include digital learning tutorials that help in regard to getting started with computers, internet searching, e-mail usage and more. This is especially helpful to those who have never seen the need for technology but may soon find a personal computer very helpful for paying bills, ordering items that are useful, and using online communication.

Another online program titled “Tech Boomers” is a free educational website that teaches inexperienced internet users the basics of digital literacy with a focus on using popular websites such as Facebook, Twitter, eBay and YouTube. This program is geared toward seniors, but useful to all who want to learn digital technology. There are also e-resources such as Hoopla, a digital media service that allows library patrons to borrow movies, music, audiobooks, e-books, comics and TV shows to be streamed and enjoyed with no waiting. These e-literary works and movies can be streamed immediately or downloaded to phones or tablets for off-line enjoyment later.

Gone are the days of waiting lists and holds on books. “Big Library Read” connects readers around the world with the same book at the same time without any wait lists or holds. Big Library Read will be running until April 13. Patrons may join a book discussion or listen to an author interview and share their thoughts on social media using #biglibraryread.

The above e-programs are only a few of the services offered at the library. Many more can be discovered by merely visiting the Morgan County Library website, as there is an abundance of information available literally at one’s fingertips. Embry said some services inside the library are still open to the public as long as the CDC guidelines are followed, such as Wi-Fi and checking in and checking out hard-copy books and videos (in compliance with CDC rules). “Right now,” Embry said,” a lot depends on our organization skills.”

A good set of organization skills is something Embry got used to using during her years as a high school art teacher at Morgan County R-II School District in Versailles. “Teachers love organizing, but those skills are also very important to have in other careers, and that is one thing I like about working at the library – being able to organize reading events such as “story time,” and making every opportunity to learn available to the local and surrounding communities,” Embry said. “Here at the library, we have tons of databases available. Just go to our Facebook page or the website.”

According to Embry, “We’re doing what we can to let people know we’re still here and, although we are having to cancel certain services, such as the use of the community room and craft and class programming, we hope to be considered a helpful media service to all those who need our resources. I liked coming up with new ideas for children, like when I was an art teacher.”

Embry said it was very hard for her to have to shut down programming such as the library’s craft classes, and other activities, “but we have to abide with the quarantine mandates and do what we need to do to get through this trying time.”

Although times are uncertain right now, Embry is counting her blessings and like many others, finding them wherever she can. Three of those blessings have to do with her and her daughters having jobs that allow them to work from home. “Ashlee lives in Springfield, and Lauren lives in Kansas City. Right now, Lauren is in Versailles with us and working at her job remotely. My husband John is fortunate to have an outdoor occupation where he only has to drop materials off and not have any physical contact with anyone.”

The local community has not quite reached the point to which Ray Bradbury’s, George Orwell’s, and Kurt Vonnegut’s novels have played out 100-percent true, but it seems as if getting even a small taste of life in quarantine can be unsettling, even if it is for society’s own good.
Perhaps now is the time to take advantage of being given time at home to grow, perhaps by reading the works of one or two of the above authors, perhaps by playing a game with a friend, or perhaps by watching a “how to” video. Whatever the public demands in regard to information, education, or entertainment, Embry wants everyone in the community to know that their public library is still there for them, online or off.