Pryor Public Library has long served as the community’s living room. Director Cari Rérat has created a place where everyone is welcome and allowed to be in the building without having to buy something or do something. However, since the pandemic began, the library has had to rethink its service model.
The library has removed furniture and computers to create physical distancing and has encouraged patrons to keep visits short. For now, providing a community living room is not safe, but Rérat says they cannot wait until they can be a gathering place for the community again.
The good news is the library is finding new ways to serve the community. The library has added curbside delivery, digital library cards and online story times.
The digital library cards have been popular, especially among students. The digital cards give patrons access to the library’s online resources without having to visit the building. As the winter months approach, the library expects the curbside delivery service to become more popular as well.
According to Rérat, the library is hoping to implement new technologies in the coming year. They are exploring providing hotspots for patrons to check out. They are also considering pre-loading lessons on tablets for the library’s adult literacy and English language learners who do not have internet at home.
The library is also slated to expand STEM programming, thanks to a stipend from the Mid-America Industrial Park. The programs are ready and the supplies and equipment have been purchased. The library is just waiting until it’s safe to offer in-person programming.
Another outcome of the pandemic is the statistics that Rérat normally uses to tell the library’s story have changed. This fall, the library’s physical and digital checkout statistics have been less than 200 items apart. Normally, the physical checkouts are double the digital checkouts, but COVID-19 has changed service delivery dramatically.
Rérat is proud to serve the library’s rural community. Pryor, Oklahoma, is located in Mayes County and is about a 45-minute drive from Tulsa. The community has a population of 9,539. In a community of this size, the library fills a variety of roles for the area’s citizens.
“While Pryor is a small town, we’re surrounded by and serve rural areas with spotty (at best) internet coverage,” said Rérat. “Our community relies on the library for internet connectivity and the technology necessary to access the internet.”
Rérat points out that internet connectivity in rural areas can be scarce due to physical limitations, such as installing fiber. It can be a challenge to meet the needs communities have for high-speed internet.
“As we’ve known, and has been proven during the pandemic, internet is no longer a luxury. It is a vital utility for people to interact with the world,” said Rérat. “Having reliable high-speed internet helps to fill the gap and provide a way for our rural patrons to access the world.”
The library has been a OneNet customer since 2013. In 2016, the library upgraded from a T1 circuit to a 100Mbps circuit. The library also utilizes OneNet’s virtual machine and content filtering services.
When Rérat became the director, the previous administration had already chosen OneNet as their internet service provider. Rérat said that was a good decision.
“I continue to choose OneNet, because the staff goes above and beyond whenever I need help with our internet or network,” said Rérat. “They are also a good sounding board for problem-solving other IT issues. We do not have an IT department in our library or in our city government, so I need all of the help I can get.”
In addition to the customer support, Rérat said reliability is key–not just for the library, but for the entire community.
“OneNet’s reliably ‘up’ internet starkly contrasts with our city government’s internet service over the last several years,” said Rérat. “When the city’s internet, including police and fire, was down, the library’s internet was up. It was helpful to officers and firefighters who needed connectivity for their daily work.”
“Rural libraries offer critical services for their communities, and OneNet provides the internet connectivity required to make those services possible,” said Vonley Royal, OneNet executive director. “We want to be a valued partner for our state’s libraries by providing reliable, affordable internet options and world-class customer support.”
Rérat appreciates this support and all that OneNet’s staff does for the library.
“I enjoy working with OneNet’s staff. In particular, I appreciate that they meet me where I am knowledge-wise and don’t make me feel bad about what I know or don’t know,” she said.
“OneNet is proud to serve libraries like Pryor Public Library,” said Royal. “Providing high-speed internet connectivity to rural libraries is an important part of our mission to advance technology across Oklahoma.”