Library file photo

POLK COUNTY – Polk County residents and the rest of the world have been facing uncharted waters dealing with COVID-19. With all the new norms, familiarity is welcome — and it can be found, to some extent, within the public libraries in Bartow and Lake Wales.

The two institutions stand firm in their missions of taking care of their patrons, even though they are both currently closed to the public.

"The only thing that you can't do is come in and browse," said Tina Peak, Lake Wales Public Library Manager.

For instance, to help patrons not feel the loss of in-person help so acutely, the staff can help on the phone.

"We have been doing a lot of reader advisories via phone," Peak said.

Users may also fill out a form online with their information, such as age and topics they are interested in. Staff will then look at their information and make a recommendation.

The Lake Wales location is eagerly anticipating the arrival and installation of new library intel lockers available to pick up materials 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"Users will call us to put a hold on an item. It will then be placed in a specific locker and the requestor will be notified of the number either by email or text," Peak explained.

The purchase of the items was approved by the Lake Wales City Commission in July and are currently being built. Officials expect the installation of the lockers by the end of this month.

Requests may also be fulfilled by the Lake Wales Library using door side service.

"We have provided door side service since day one. Requests for copies and printing may be made via email," Peak said. "We will place orders on the outdoor cart to be picked up."

Lake Wales is conducting weekly adult programming virtually. The current online course is basic calligraphy and can also be viewed as a recorded class on YouTube.

For toddlers, every week Wiggles and Giggles are offered live and on YouTube, as well.

Both libraries have had programs in place since before COVID-19 that are being used even more now.

"Books By Mail obviously has seen a huge increase in usage," Peak said. "It has lessened a bit over the past few weeks, but there are still more users than there was. ...

"The City of Lake Wales has been extremely cautious about reopening city offices," Peak said. "We want people to know that we are still providing services. We are making the best of it."

Patrons can request books on the websites for both libraries, to be mailed using the U.S. Postal Service.

And, as always, materials may be returned to the book drops. According to Peak, they are emptied several times a day. Materials and areas that are touched frequently are sanitized as needed.

The Bartow Public Library accepts phone calls from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. on Monday through Friday at (863) 534-0131.

The Lake Wales Public Library staff is available by phone at (863) 678-4004 from 9 a.m. through 5:30 p.m. on Monday through Friday, as well as from 9 a.m. through 3 p.m. on Saturdays.