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Nebraska library workers bring books to doorsteps

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) — For the last four years, Elisa Cruz has brought the library to people who can’t come to the actual building.

Cruz is the circulation manager at Keene Memorial Library in Fremont. She’s in charge of the outreach and homebound services. She takes large-print books and other materials to people, who are homebound of any age, can’t drive or for disability reasons.

She’s delivered books to local care facilities and Gifford and Stanton towers.

And while the COVID-19 pandemic has altered some services or temporarily halted others, Cruz and library assistant Ann Hoppe are ready to hit the road with their words-on-wheels work.

Cruz now takes books to three people in Fremont in what’s called contactless drop-offs. Due to the pandemic, she leaves materials on the individuals’ doorsteps, rings their doorbells and waves at them from a distance.

“There’s not as much chit chat as I enjoy, but at least we’re getting people their stuff,” she told the Fremont Tribune.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Cruz and Hoppe have taken books and materials to the Nye locations, The Heritage at Shalimar Gardens and Dunklau Gardens. They’re not doing that now due to the virus, but plan to resume this service in the future.

“We go every other month and bring them a variety of large-type materials,” she said. “A lot of the people appreciate it and they know when we’re coming and they look forward to their new books.”

Cruz said she and Hoppe take between 200 and 250 books and go to all the locations on a specified day. They also bring audio materials for a few patrons with visual impairments.

“Some of those locations have pretty heavy book readers so sometimes the people in charge will get a hold of me and ask me to drop off a few more, because a few of their folks have read through everything,” Cruz said.

People like Riley Faulkner appreciate the service.

Faulkner is director of life enrichment at Shalimar Gardens.

Books aren’t being brought there now due to COVID-19 restrictions, but residents are reading what was brought before the pandemic hit.

Faulkner has a bookshelf in her office for the large-print books. Residents check out a book from the office. Once they’ve read the book, they bring it back. Some residents will read all of the books before Cruz arrives with another batch.

“It’s a wonderful partnership to have,” Faulkner said. “We’re very thankful for Elisa and her team that they’re able to do this and switch these books out. We get a lot of donations of fine-print books, but those just don’t work for the residents so we’re very thankful to have the large-print books that are easily accessible at any time for the residents.”

Shalimar continues to restrict all visitors at this time. Faulkner hopes the time will come soon when books can be brought once again.

“We’re just patiently waiting for the right time,” Faulkner said.

Other local residents have benefited from this books-on-wheels service.

Cruz began going to Gifford and Stanton towers in Fremont one day each month in 2017, because several residents there either don’t have a vehicle or otherwise have trouble getting around.

“We basically set up a little mobile library in each of the towers and they check out the materials,” she said.

She looks forward to getting back to the towers in the future, too.

In the past, library staff used their own vehicles to transport the materials. Now, they use one of the city’s hybrid cars.

Cruz said she’s made book deliveries in rain, snow, wind and heat.

People interested in homebound services may call the library at 402-727-2694 and ask for Cruz or provide the information. She likes to know what types of materials they like, what times she can bring them.

Folks with an older relative who could benefit also may call Cruz at the library.

She encourages local residents to participate.

“We’ll bring the library to them essentially,” Cruz said. “It’s a good thing when people want to use the library and they want their books. It’s a win-win.”

Cruz misses the readers at the different locations and hopes that after July she’ll be able to begin bringing materials to the different facilities. She’ll coordinate her efforts with administrators to help keep residents safe.

She’s enjoyed interacting with the readers.

“It’s fun to see how happy people get when they get a new book in their hands,” she said. “Sometimes, they’re just happy to see us, because they know us and we make little conversations with them. It’s a rewarding feeling.”

Cruz believes local residents benefit from the programs.

“I think a lot of these folks they really like to read and they really like to see us as a connection to the library,” Cruz said. “It makes them feel connected to the community.”

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