By Betsy Bleck

It has been so many days of steely gray; the blue is a pleasant shock to the senses. May this blue sky be a sign of brighter days to come. Besides the sunshine, another development to brighten our week is that the hardworking “Build a Park at 517” group has reached their fundraising goal, ensuring that historical piece of land will become a park for all to enjoy. The coronavirus vaccine is here, the days are getting longer, Oconomowoc’s ChiliFest will include a Bloody Mary contest this year — these are some bright spots to focus on, as we continue to work through this challenging time.

So many in our community are enduring difficulties. Grief, illness, money worries, unemployment, and the strain of another month of things just not being “normal” are stressing us and our families, friends, and neighbors. While the Library cannot fix everything, we can help with many things. All of the resources and services below are free with your library card, and there is no charge to get a library card.

The Library has HelpNow, which you can access free from anywhere with your library card. HelpNow offers live online tutoring, a writing lab, resume assistance, and test prep. For all you fans of “The Queen’s Gambit,” HelpNow has just announced live chess tutoring, too.

Or try LearningExpress for academic and career prep, such as skill-building lessons, GED prep, career and military course prep.

Gale Courses are free, instructor-led online classes on a variety of topics to enrich your professional and personal life — like starting a digital business, photography, computer skills, and more.

In addition to those great online resources, you can check out all the eBooks and eAudiobooks you like using the Libby/Overdrive app. Just download the Libby or Overdrive app to your device, enter your library card information, and you will be off and running… or rather, off and reading. Hoopla is another easy way to get eBooks and eAudiobooks, plus movies and music. You can check it out by downloading the Hoopla app. If you need help getting started, please let us know, we are happy to help!

In addition to those online resources, we have take-and make activities and a variety of virtual programming for all ages. In February, we will even offer a Puzzle Exchange, in case you have done all your puzzles twice and are in desperate need of something new.

Four-and-a-half years ago, this column was about how libraries assist their communities in times of crisis. I wrote that column following the mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. This is what I said then, and it is still true for our current troubled times: “Libraries are more to communities than a place to check out books, access free WiFi, enjoy storytime and get expert research help, though all of those things are crucial. Your library is also a place that will always welcome and serve you, whether you need a place to charge your phone, a quick bathroom stop, an air conditioned place to relax on sweltering days, or a spot to hide from the noise outside and read a magazine in a comfortable chair… rest assured that your library is here to help and serve you, no matter what. Libraries are places of refuge and safety at all times, but shine especially bright during the darkest times.”