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COVID-19 Check-In: Melissa McCollum, Director of El Segundo Public Library

By Elliott Wright

Next in our series of COVID-19 Check-In interviews was Melissa McCollum, the director of the El Segundo Public Library. After closing down the library on March 14 for safety reasons, Melissa and her team began brainstorming ideas to serve the community in new ways. Along with compiling resources to educate children about the virus, they shared various online creative and educational opportunities for all ages. With some exciting developments taking place in June, I reached out to her via email to learn more about how she has adapted since closing the library’s doors almost three months ago.

Melissa, how have things changed for you, the library, and your patrons since March 14?

Melissa: We expanded our eBook collection and began offering virtual programming, including storytimes, art activities, book clubs, online yoga classes, sing-alongs, and more. We also offered limited book delivery to Park Vista residents as well as via our Book Drop Program. 

Many library staff members also served as part of the City of El Segundo’s All Hazards Incident Management Team to assist with the emergency and recovery response, including staffing the Joint Information Center to answer COVID-19 questions from El Segundo residents and businesses.

Can you clarify for us the new program that began this month?

We are very excited to announce that we’re able to offer Library to Go (curbside pickup and return of library materials), as of June 1, due to a recent directive from the LA County Public Health Department. Please see the ESPL’s website for more information. 

What forms of visual entertainment have you been turning to during these turbulent times?

You are likely expecting a book recommendation from me, but it turns out watching teen dramas with my almost-teenager has comforted me more than reading during this time. 

I introduced my son to Friday Night Lights and Veronica Mars. He picked Riverdale and Outer Banks. We just started Gossip Girl. The shows are not for everyone, but jointly experiencing and discussing the tangle of outlandish characters, plots, and locations provided the right mix of connection and escapism for both of us. 

After George Floyd’s death, my son and I decided to watch The Hate U Give while reading Stamped by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. As Trevor Noah said, “Black people in America are still facing the battle against racism—and coronavirus.” The world hasn’t stopped, and we can’t either. It’s important to continue to engage, both personally and professionally.

What about music?

Musicians and other creatives have been so generous sharing their art during this time. I’ve enjoyed some of the Instagram, Facebook Live, and Twitter performances, including D-Nice’s dance parties and “battles” between Lin-Manuel Miranda and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, and Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt. Fiona Apple’s new album was a nice surprise too.

How—if at all—do you think human interaction may change once we become more assimilated? Will there be more compassion for each other?

I hope we all learn from this experience. Health, economic, justice, and technology inequities became even more apparent during the pandemic. I think it will be a missed opportunity if our goal is to return to the way things were before. It’s not going to be easy or quick, but together we can make decisions and take actions that make life better for all of us. 

I’ve been very impressed with how El Segundo has responded to the challenges of the pandemic. Everyone has played a part—government, residents, businesses, schools, service and faith organizations, and more. Let’s continue to work together.

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