Walking through the Moorhead Public Library in late February, I was stopped by a customer with an arm full of books who said, “Winters are so long...I don’t know what I would do without my public library.” Little did I know, we were days away from closing our doors to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we closed the library in mid-March, I saw books, DVDs and other materials sitting idly on the library shelves and it broke my heart. I thought about how these books and library materials should be in the homes of our community members, not on the shelves of a closed library--especially during a pandemic. This was a time when our community members needed these resources most.

As the executive director of Lake Agassiz Regional Library, I witnessed firsthand the creativity and strength of Minnesota’s public libraries. Thanks to the leadership of Mary Cathryn Ricker, Minnesota Commissioner of Education and Jennifer Nelson, Director of State Library Services, within days of closing, the Minnesota public library community joined together to creatively and safely offer library service throughout the region and the state.

Ricker and Nelson listened to the concerns of librarians across Minnesota, participated in conversations and created a place for public libraries at the table during this crisis. They advocated for public libraries and supported a change in library legislation to improve digital inclusion and the purchase and distribution of Wi-Fi hotspots for checkouts at public libraries, and provided support and guidance to our industry during the COVID-19 crisis.

With new support from the CARES Act Grant and with the continued excellent support of our cities and counties, Lake Agassiz Regional Library’s 22 locations are open and ready to assist in COVID-19 recovery while making safety and convenience a priority. We are here to provide books, movies, television shows, music, and more for entertainment purposes, but we are also here to help our community members reach their full potential by connecting them to the educational opportunities, resources and assistance that are needed by so many. We are here to support workforce development, economic recovery, student success and digital inclusion.

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If history repeats itself, we know that during times of economic downturns, isolation and crisis, public libraries will be at the forefront, offering services and support to all. We feel fortunate to be in a state that leads the nation as a champion in education, values public libraries, and facilitates the necessary tools for lifelong learning. Please know that your public library is here for you always, but especially during this unprecedented time.

Lynch is executive director of Lake Agassiz Regional Library