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FORT WALTON BEACH — Fort Walton Beach librarians are engaging with the community in a new and unique way.

After Okaloosa County libraries closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, FWB librarians began a new digital storytelling service through the library’s Facebook page.

Every two to three days, one of the library staff will post a Facebook live and read a story from a variety of children’s books.

The new program is aimed at keeping children connected to the library and its staff, said Tricia Gould, library manager for the city of Fort Walton Beach.

“It was important to keep connected with our families,” Gould said.

Emerald Fiedler, one of the librarians at Fort Walton Beach, read a story called Maisy’s Wonderful Weather, which received about 200 views, according to the Facebook video.

The Monday afternoon video also included a how-to on creating a decorated pink or blue bookmark using nail polish.

“This is a way for (library patrons) to have some new books every week,” Fiedler said. “They all look forward to it.”

The librarian, who has been on staff almost two years, said she received emails from parents who appreciated the story time videos.

“When people interact with me in the comments, that’s always fun,” Fiedler said.

The digital story time is a way for the library to reach emerging readers, Gould said.

Many of the children who visit the library for story time are “attached to the library staff,” and this is a way to continue that outreach, she said.

“Seeing those children every week, you get to know them,” Gould said. “We get a lot of joy with our customers.”

Before COVID-19, the FWB library was dabbling in video and production work through the digital media lab housed at the library.

“We are very much a people-oriented field,” she said.

The transition from working with patrons in person to using digital means has had its ups and downs for the library staff.

Gould said her librarians have become more comfortable working with and being in front of the camera.

“It’s a natural progression,” she said.

But, just like for many people, Gould said it can also be difficult adjusting to working from home and relying on technology to stay connected.

“Technology is a poor substitute, but it’s all we have right now,” she said.“It keeps that connection going.”

The Fort Walton Beach Library is one of many libraries working to find ways to stay connected to their community.

“The library is attempting to bring that into their homes,” said Vicky Stevers, cooperative coordinator for the Okaloosa County public library cooperative.

Stevers, who loves watching FWB library’s digital story time, said each library in the county is staying connected and supporting the community differently.

Crestview Public Library started a similar digital storytelling program, and three other libraries in Okaloosa County gave out printed copies of the unemployment applications: Mary Esther, Niceville and Destin.

With libraries closed, more readers are using online resources such as audio and e-books, Stevers said.

This has lead FWB library into pushing more of their resources into the online editions of the stories they acquire, Goulden said.

While digital storytelling was meant as a way to engage with the community during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gould said the library will likely continue creating the videos after the crisis has passed.

Gould said staff will also be focusing once again with hands-on activities and in-person stories.

“We miss our library patrons and can’t wait to see them when we open back up,” Fiedler said.