CONSHOHOCKEN -- Benjamin Franklin was clearly one of his era’s greatest visionaries. But when Franklin and fellow Junto Club members created this country’s first lending library in July 1731, even he would have had trouble imagining the changes COVID-19 has triggered at today’s libraries.

Remote reading programs? Virtual special events? Outside “quarantine” drop-offs?

No question, pandemic restrictions have altered business as usual at most libraries. For example, Conshohocken Free Library’s traditional Friends book sale – a key fundraiser – is on hold. Ditto the benefit sale of “Pennsylvania Bards: Southeast Poetry Review.” The anthology includes “Hoagie Madonna,” local poet Hugh Carter Donahue’s homage to “the grace and generosity of Conshohocken Italian Bakery’s Anna Gambone…and the quality of the bakery’s hoagie roll.”

“As a loyal patron of our library, Dr. Donahue purchased several copies of the anthology so that we may offer them for sale, with all profits from the sale benefiting the library,” explains CFL Branch Manager Sydney Mason. “Unfortunately, that will have to wait until the library reopens.”

Happily, the Montgomery County-Norristown Public Library affiliate – like others – is still able to offer patrons a whole slew of instructional and entertainment options.

“In fact, thanks to online programs like Beanstack (mcnpl.beanstack.org), we’ve actually been able to reach even more people for our summer reading program,” Mason says. “I guess you could say, we’re still able to offer a lot of terrific programming…just in different formats. We had our first virtual event last weekend – magician Ran’D Shine – and next weekend, we have the Adventure Aquarium doing a show called ‘Real Sea Life or is it just Fanta-SEA?’ On July 16th, we’re doing a program with an educator from the Mutter Museum called ‘Spit Spreads Death – The Influence Epidemic of 1918-19 in Philadelphia,’ and we have a Conshohocken trivia program lined up with (local historian) Jack Coll for Aug. 12.”

CFL’s weekly Zoom story times for babies and pre-schoolers as well as its Grab’n Go craft packs have also been a hit with local youth.

“Lorraine Gambone, our children’s librarian, has gamely made the adjustment from doing in-person story times to…using Zoom and uploading recorded read-alouds onto Facebook and YouTube,” Mason says. “Lorraine also took charge of the Grab’n Go summer crafts, and she works to come up with something cute and creative each week…generally appropriate for 3-year-olds through, maybe, 12-year-olds. Last week, it was a shield or coat of arms…this week, a crown. We put the packets on the porch so people can just come up and take one.”

On tap for the coming weeks…a virtual fairy tale ball, origami workshop, nature collage art class and dance party.

“Yes, like every other library, we’ve lost some things,” Mason says. “Like Poetry Month in April…we lost that completely. But we still have a full calendar…something special every day. And, again, with some of the online programs, we’re actually able to reach more people than usual.”

She gives a special shout-out to CFL’s Friends volunteers.

“Our Friends have been amazing with their support,” Mason says. “They’ve collected a great selection of prizes to reward our summer readers of all ages. We’ll raffle the prizes off at the end of the summer, and everyone who participates in the online summer reading program at mcnpl.beanstack.org earns entries in the raffle. There are prizes to fit all age groups, from babies to adults.”

Mason notes that registration is required for all of CFL’s online programs and events. Additional information is available at 610-825-1656, conshylibrary@gmail.com or #conshysummer2020 on Facebook and Instagram. The historic borough library is located at 301 Fayette Street.

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