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Dallas Public Library staff help patrons adjust to life after the COVID-19 pandemic

Beyond checking out books, the public library is a place where community members can access health services — everything from signing up for a COVID-19 vaccine online to Medicaid open enrollment.

LaTari Prater and Shannon Adams are both with the Dallas Public Library. Prater is the manager of the Polk-Wisdom Branch Library in Oak Cliff, and Adams is the community services administrator, managing adult programming like GED and ESL classes. They share how the public library has helped people navigate life since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.

Helping patrons navigate life during and after the pandemic

Shannon Adams: It’s really a social work and human resources job, actually, over the past few years because we’ve been having to figure out what community needs are. And then pivot toward meeting different community needs, because they changed after the pandemic.

LaTari Prater: For me at the branch, in 2020, we closed our doors due to the pandemic. So that made my job look completely different, because we went from having in-person assistance to curbside assistance.

Now in 2022, what we are starting to see is that more customers are coming in needing help with everyday life things, like how to use their cell phone, how to scan a document to email, how to apply for a new ID.

Adams: We’ve become like life coaches, right?

Prater: I think customers need help adjusting to the changes that the pandemic brought. So for example, most job interviews are on Zoom. And many people have no clue what Zoom means.

We’ve recently had a customer come in, and he said he had a job interview. So, we took the time explain the Zoom process. And the next week, he came in, he did the interview. Week after that, he came back and said he got the job. So that made me think if he didn’t come to the library to get help on how to use Zoom, he would have missed out on the opportunity for that job.

“We recently had a customer come in, and she needed to apply for an apartment,” said LaTari Prater. “She had no computer experience. So we sat down with her to do the application. And once she was done with it, she just started crying, and she gave me a hug. She said I’m about to lose my current housing, I have nowhere else to go. That made me realize that what we do here has a big impact on the community.”

The library as community health support

Adams: Community health is all inclusive, right? Community health has to do with food access, it has to do with physical health, mental health, it has to do with economic health, it has to do with transportation. So all those things are connected. We are the ones who fill in the gaps.

We make it more comfortable for our patrons to be able to actually take advantage of the resources that are available to them. Because otherwise, they probably wouldn’t.

It’s about trust. When you don’t trust the organization, maybe because it’s been some systemic situations for years, then you are more inclined to not participate in their services. [If] they don’t trust going to the hospital, well, they can come to their local library and get that education.

Prater: Just a few days ago, we had a customer come in [who] was trying to get a flu shot and a COVID booster shot. And wherever he went, they told him to make an appointment online. Here we go, stuff has moved online again. So we went to the website, made the appointment for him, and he was good to go.

Shannon Adams stands outside the library branch building.

“We’re frontline workers and people outside the community, outside the library, do not realize that we are frontline workers,” Adams said. “Our staff can just really experience compassion fatigue. I think that the biggest challenge is just really having that consistency, because you never know what we’re gonna get from day to day.”

What they wished people knew about working at Dallas Public Library

Prater: I do not sit around and read all day. A lot of people think librarians sit and read all day. We do not! I’d like people to know that we are community helpers. We are here to help the community.

Adams: LaTari, great minds, because that’s exactly what I say. I do not read all day. We do not sit at a desk all day, we serve the community. We connect people with the things that they need on a day-to-day basis. And we do not read books all day—but you can come check out a book!

Got a tip? Email Elena Rivera at erivera@kera.org. You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenaiswriting.

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