“With everything so ‘virtual’ it was so nice to get a handwritten note from my library.”/“The colorful card I received in the mail yesterday is so appreciated.”/“How nice to receive a card that didn’t want to sell me something or vote for someone. God bless you for just thinking of me during such an unsettling time.”
Comments from recipients of the Falmouth Public Library’s Postcard Project speak for themselves. Despite the ease of texting, email and Instagram, lots of people still enjoy receiving letters in the mail. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that has closed the library along with many other businesses and cultural organizations, library director Linda Collins and head of reference and adult services Jill Erickson conceived the Postcard Project, which consists of sending postcards to more than 2,000 patrons taken from the list of Falmouth library cardholders who checked out books in the first four months of 2020.
The idea started in March, Ms. Erickson said, “When we knew the library was going to close and we wanted to somehow stay in touch with people.” Originally they thought up the idea as a way to keep in touch with patrons they knew don’t have internet access.
“In the beginning we were receiving a lot of calls from people who were panicked because they didn’t have internet and we thought it would be nice to send them a postcard,” Ms. Erickson said, “but then we thought everybody would probably like to get a postcard, not just people who didn’t have internet. It seemed like a way to connect with all of our patrons in an old-fashioned way that isn’t done that much anymore and that might be fun for people.”
The circulation department, under the leadership of department head Tammy Amon, has taken on the majority of letter writing. Ms. Amon estimates Postcard Project participants have sent out approximately 500 postcards since the project started. The plan is to send out the remaining 1,500 between now and the end of May.
“The circulation staff have been the champions of this,” Ms. Erickson said. They created a list of everyone who had checked out an item in the past four months and started sending postcards to everyone on the list, she said.
Ms. Erickson and Ms. Collins are both members of the international group Postcrossing, a modern-day way to find pen pals that provides contacts for people to write postcards to other letter-writing enthusiasts all over the world. Because she’s an active member of the group, Ms. Erickson said, she had tons of postcards at home that she brought in to donate to the library’s project. Ms. Aman, who has also supplemented the postcard supply, noted that several patrons donated postcards, as well. The library is paying the postage for the cards.
“The project is a real way to connect with the community at a time when it’s really hard for us to do that,” Ms. Erickson said.
In addition to working from the list of library patrons, Postcard Project participants have taken requests from the community if someone knows of a friend or family member who would appreciate a card. “We got messages from people asking for postcards to be sent to parents who live in local nursing homes or who were home-bound in the area. Then we started getting postcards in response to our postcards and people calling to tell us how much it meant to them,” Ms. Erickson said. “It’s really snowballed in this delightful way. It’s a ray of hope in an otherwise rather bleak time.”
The children’s room is doing its own version of the project, sending out cards created with stickers or that children can color. Ms. Amon guessed that they have sent approximately 350 cards to young library patrons.
While the writers have something of a script that they can work off of in order to help them compose letters to patrons that they don’t know, most of the patrons are known to at least one of the library workers. “We have a little bit of a base letter but then most of us know the people so we can personalize the letters,” Ms. Amon said. “For the most part we’ve been able to find someone in the library who knows the person on the list and can personalize a note, even if it’s to say that the library misses seeing them on their regular day or something along those lines.”
Employees at the smaller branch library are also helping with the project.
“We’re trying hard not to miss people and disappoint them,” Ms. Amon said. We’ll probably muck it up a few times but we’re really trying.”
Ms. Amon said the project gives the library staff a feeling of “reaching out and truly thinking about each patron. When you are writing their address on the card you can picture them in your head.”
“It does take some time because we’re writing them and not putting them through a machine,” Ms. Amon said. “It’s a human reaching out.”
“We’re gotten some lovely cards back. The overall response has been lovely. “I’m energized by the project and proud of this small effort to reach out and connect with our wonderful patrons,” Ms. Amon said.
Christine Lynch, who works at the circulation desk in the main library, has been participating in the project and said she loved the idea of it from the beginning. The project is especially meaningful for her, she said, “because so much of what makes my library work enjoyable is connecting with patrons. Not seeing these patrons while the library is closed really leaves an empty feeling. So, by sending the notes I kind of feel this connection by letting people know we miss them and sincerely cannot wait to be able to talk with them again in person. The people who come into the library are special to all of us working the circulation desks, in reference, and the entire library staff.”
Writing is being done by library employees who are working from home as well as by the small group that is at the library weekdays from 9 AM to 5 PM answering phone calls. “Extra efforts are being done to keep virtual services going until the library is back to business as usual,” Ms. Lynch said. Ms. Erickson added, “Ninety percent of the calls are people who need help with e-books, which can be done easily over the phone.”
Patrons are also calling because they have read all the books at their houses and are anxious for the library to reopen.
“People are calling in hopes that we might sneak some books out to them,” Ms. Amon said, adding that while that can’t be done, she’s gratified to hear that so many people are “hungry for books.”
Ms. Amon said she’s also been hearing about neighbors leaving books out for each other. “I loved hearing about neighborhood shares. People are being creative,” she said.
If you know someone that you think would like a postcard or if you would like a postcard, send a mailing address to firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “Postcard Project” in the subject line of the email.