The local library in Marine on St Croix, Minn., is an exemplary model for creating community. Despite it’s small size, the volunteer-run library sponsors numerous events throughout the year for all ages. It’s not just a place to read books — it’s a place to share stories.

With the ever-developing Coronavirus situation, Ruth Willius, Marine Library board member and chair of the children’s program committee, is finding ways for the library to continue supporting the community.

The library is well-suited for intimate groups, clubs and wedding receptions — not for social distancing. With the popular Science/Art Camp cancelled, along with weekly Story Time and other events, Willius has her children’s program team brainstorming fresh ideas.

Thankfully, the library’s fourth annual Summer Reading Incentive Program isn’t going to be cancelled so easily. 

“We can do this,” Willius said. “Because kids should read, and read, and read, and so we’re doing it online.”

Megan Lapos, a volunteer on the children’s program committee, is helping transition the program to a virtual space using the library website. Instead of dropping off their reading ballots in a jar at the library, participants will submit their reading lists online.

Every week, four names will be drawn as winners, two for younger children and two for older children, with gift cards to local businesses as prizes. Usually, Marine Library accepts donated gift cards, but this year they’re buying their own to support local businesses amidst lockdown-induced financial strains.

Another innovation in the program is the updated prizes. In previous years, the library rewarded lucky winners with gift cards and coupons for group-oriented experiences like certain Mall of America venues, climbing centers and Wild Mountain ski area. Due to social distancing guidelines, these options are unavailable.

“We’re limiting that type of thing, because it would not be safe,” Willius said. 

Instead, all the prizes are for small local businesses in order to help prevent virus spread.

The program begins on June 1 and will continue until the end of August. It’s open to all young readers.

As library plans develop cautiously alongside changing community health guidelines, Willius is considering an outdoor “blanket bingo” event, where families gather around the park gazebo and play bingo using loud speakers – staying six feet apart. 

“Last year we did it and it was phenomenally successful,” Willius said.

The children’s committee is also hoping to put together book-related activity packages for kids.

Another difficulty for the library has been maintaining the adult programs. The adult program committee maintains an array of successful programs – but they’re all group-oriented. The library offers frequent group activities for writers, poets, film enthusiasts and all kinds of hobbyists to connect with each other. These types of programs are on hold until alternative events can be planned and organized.

The self-isolation restrictions have brought out the best in creativity in the last few months, and the Marine Library is no exception. To keep communities connected, they’ve hosted their own radio show, River Radio. The weekly show will continue until the end of May, and may return again at a later time.

The library’s bookshelf-lined aisles may be empty and quiet, but their community spirit and innovative outreach is quite the opposite.

As of May 23, curbside pickup at the Marine Library has been available, and strategies to safely reopen the library are being discussed.

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