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Change is all around us. It’s what 2020 was filled with, and it’s almost certainly what 2021 will overflow with. Out of the difficulties of COVID-19 came opportunities to learn – from forgetting to push ‘mute’ on a Zoom call to leaving your mask at home when it’s time to go grocery shopping. In our ever-changing world, the Fort Worth Public Library works diligently to safely provide services, pursue lifelong learning and meet community needs, said Manya Shorr, library director, and Michele Gorman, assistant director, public services.

“Everything that we do is about lifelong learning and making learning fun,” Shorr said. “At the end of the day, your community has to create your library services.”

With communities who faced quarantines, lockdowns and closed public buildings, the Fort Worth Public Library staff changed how they offered books and programs, Shorr said. After being closed for 66 days, offering online programs, and slowly reopening locations, the library saw more digital checkouts and attendance for virtual programs, according to a report from the library.

“We took the opportunity to redefine programing in a virtual space to really help our general public understand what we could do for them,” said Gorman. “I think the biggest thing is that we have been able to meet them where they are and give them new and exciting things to engage them from home.”

The Fort Worth Public Library has been changing and improving long before the pandemic, Shorr said. Libraries are no longer buildings just for research or checking out a book; they are places full of diversity, where people can come to strengthen their communities.

“What I am loving so much right now is the incredibly innovative and creative programming the staff are doing,” Shorr said. “It’s taking our regular services outside the four walls of our traditional building.”

The library currently offers Wi-Fi hot spot checkouts, where Fort Worth resident cardholders can have Internet anytime and anywhere for three weeks. The mobile hot spot is the number one requested item from the library, Shorr said.

People use the Fort Worth Public Library for a variety of resources – far beyond just books, she said. The library reported 200,000 hours of computer use and over 4 million checkouts, including hot spots, in 2019. Books aren’t going anywhere, she promised, but the library has become a place for so much more than only checking out a book.

“The most amazing thing for me is that – especially in 2021 – people have no idea how much the library can offer them,” Gorman said. “When they find out, it’s like their little secret, and they go around telling everybody.”

Public libraries have something for everyone, Gorman said, and the Fort Worth Public Library is focused on bringing those resources outside physical library buildings.

“There is truly something for everybody,” Gorman said. “If you do this right, you’re not limited to having to come into one of our buildings.”

Another goal of the Fort Worth Public Library is to participate in community vitality by “supporting entrepreneurs, small businesses and people who want to help make our city better,” Shorr said.

Fort Worth, Texas, has diverse communities with culture, art, and entrepreneurship, Shorr said. Collaborating with the growing city will allow the library to best serve residents. One way the Fort Worth Public Library is doing that is through the Amplify817 program.

Amplify817 is a Fort Worth streaming service where local artists can submit their music to the library, where it is then judged. If an artist is selected, The Fort Worth Public Library Foundation pays to license the music for three years. The streaming service can be used by anyone, and library cardholders can download music for free.

“I think this is really the way we are going to help highlight Fort Worth music and diverse Fort Worth music.” Shorr said. “We launched [Amplify817] in February, and the momentum on it hasn’t stopped because of COVID, which has been really great. We do plan to do in-person concerts in the future.”

From curbside pickup to digital download, from mobile hotspots to music streaming services, the Fort Worth Public Library is no longer just a building downtown; it is an inclusive and accessible resource for community growth and strength that can be utilized anywhere.

“It’s not about the stuff,” Shorr said. ”It’s about the ‘why.’ Why are we here, and what are we doing? What we are trying to do is figure out what it is that our community needs help with in their lives.”

By: Victoria Burnett