Equity reset lifts Child Care Book Delivery amid COVID-19 service pauses

Many workplaces are managing this back-and-forth cycle of ups and downs during the year-long (and counting) COVID-19 pandemic.

Martha Lillie knows this all too well as a library assistant for Multnomah County Library’s Child Care Book Delivery Service, a service that brings age-appropriate, high-quality children’s books to child care centers, in-home child care providers and other organizations that work with children daily. 

Hits and misses. Fits and starts. Retreats and rallies.

Child and adult reading book

Through disruption and interruption of opening and closures due to COVID-19 safety precautions, the library’s Child Care Book Delivery Service pushed forward with an expanded, equity-centered focus while simultaneously broadening its overall reach to youth throughout the county.

During the first library closure last March, Martha brought home several crates of books to continue her work: “The first thing I started doing in those beginning months of the pandemic was a diversity audit of our collection,’’ Martha says.

In the months prior to the pandemic, staff had been evaluating the delivery service, with the aim of more directly addressing the library’s service commitment to historically marginalized communities. These include Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, as well as immigrant communities, and those who have lower incomes.

Martha says the diversity audit underscored the importance of including emergency child care providers, those state-approved providers offering childcare during COVID-19 under revised safety guidelines, as part of outreach to historically marginalized communities.

“It’s a complicated process trying to determine which of our sites are previous book delivery sites doing emergency childcare so that we continue to serve them,’’ she says.

“Which sites do we need to pick up the materials they had so we can quarantine them in order to share them with another child care site? In addition, which new emergency child care sites are interested and have the capacity to start something new like this?’’

Annie Lewis, Early Childhood Services Manager for three-plus years through January 2021, saw firsthand the evolution of the book delivery service reset during COVID-19.

"Martha worked closely with the book delivery staff team to analyze every detail to ensure the team could resume book delivery services,’’ Lewis says.

“From safety measures, to new delivery routes, to communicating with child care providers, the team worked hard to provide this critical service to children in care settings to ensure they had access to high-quality children's materials." 

Since resuming services in October 2020, through March 2021, the team has delivered 75,550 books to 206 emergency child care provider sites. The previous fiscal year, the team delivered nearly 40,000 books to 1,132 classrooms and childcare providers

“So far, I think we’ve probably added around 50 new sites,’’ she says, “in addition to the sites that we were serving that were also working as emergency child care providers.”

Given the many pandemic challenges facing library programs and staff, successfully delivering such high volumes of books is a victory of sorts.

“Our big thing has been just getting books into the hands of kids, particularly those who don’t have access and need the books,’’ Martha says. “That’s our passion: kids and books.”

This has been Martha’s mantra since joining the Child Care Book Delivery Service for what is now called the library’s Every Child Initiative in 1999. She began her Multnomah County Library career in 1988, as a page at Central Library, and in 1994 earned library media specialist certification.

In the past year, she says, she’s become more comfortable with Google Maps and other Google forms. And did so, along with many coworkers, while adjusting to teleworking at some point.

“I had to learn a lot of new skills,’’Martha says. “I used Google Maps to lay out all of the Emergency Child Care sites. And then we kind of had to figure out how we were going to make our way through the county with that process’’ to deliver books.

Martha says the restart of the Child Care Book Delivery Service in the COVID-19 era has been accomplished in great part through the efforts of Annie Lewis, and other library staff including, Eric Barker, Tony Hix, Gordon Long, Brendan McGovern, and Lauren Reese. She says Rachel Altmann assists from home with coordination and communication.

Their commitment inspires Stephanie Orellana, who oversees the program as Youth Services Outreach supervisor.

“They have shown up every day ready to get books into the hands of kids,’’ Orellana says. “It has been amazing to witness their dedication. They are all incredibly collaborative and great champions for equity.”

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Written by Wade Nkrumah

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