A Toast to Resilience: Bringing Patrons Back After the Pandemic

A year ago this month, we had just opened Curbside Concierge services, and we were celebrating what felt like a victory to us: circulated physical books for the first time since early March. The staff at the Chattanooga Public Library stepped up to the challenge presented by COVID-19. We started delivering virtual programs and services within a week of closing our doors, and we took advantage of our empty buildings to advance major capital projects. Though we had no idea when we would come out on the other side of things, we focused on what we could accomplish in the short-term. 

This June, however, we are looking many months ahead. And the future couldn’t look brighter. We started the month off with our first in-person program in nearly 15 months, and while we limited occupancy and held the event outside, we were not dipping our toes into the waters. We went into our next reopening phase with a cannonball of a splash: a wine tasting put on by our newest adult program, Curiosity Club, sponsored by our Friends of the Chattanooga Public Library and community partners who continued to support our mission throughout the last year. 

It may come as no surprise that the wine tasting was a big success, with overwhelmingly positive feedback from all who attended. But for us, after more than a year of learning how to do things differently, our focus was on what we could learn from this experience. What does an in-person program look like now? Do programs need to be a hybrid of in-person and virtual? How can we leverage events like these to attract more sponsorships through our Friends? 

As we move into our next fiscal year, we have many ambitious goals to achieve that require creative thinking, collaboration, and funding. What we did during the pandemic and what we’re doing now coming out of it, everything we do must be forward thinking. We’ve made our buildings more equitable with ADA compliance upgrades, and we’ve developed new relationships with diverse community partners. We’re seeking long-term program sponsors that will allow us to consistently offer quality programs and diverse services our community needs. 

The pandemic showed us the value of unconventional thinking, of hiring staff with unique skill sets, of investing in tools and technology that allow us to pivot quickly. It seems fitting that our first in-person program was a wine event because I definitely feel like toasting. Here’s to the ever changing, but always impactful public library! 

Corinne Hill, Executive Director Chattanooga Public Library