Interactions: Government connects people to services online
Special to the Sierra Sun
It was February last year, while on vacation in Cancun, when Truckee Library technician Rotha Carlson first heard about COVID-19.
On the plane ride home was the first time she saw someone wearing the now familiar mask and realized how deadly the pandemic could become.
“I remember thinking that this is uncharted territory, that we really don’t know where this could go,” Carlson said. “But I was very aware that this happens historically, and there is nothing that would prevent it from happening here.”
Carlson has dedicated most of her life to libraries, 11 years with Truckee, calling them the great equalizer of our society. When the pandemic hit, she said they were in a great position to adapt technologically, but it was a struggle emotionally.
“It’s been very significant in that it removed our patrons, which is the heart of our business,” she said. “I think we adapted quite well in terms of the technical parts of our job, but we’re missing our patrons, and helping people search for their reading materials, helping kids with their homework.”
One way they’ve tried to stay connected with patrons is through their two bimonthly book clubs, which now meet though video conference. Carlson said while it can’t replace in-person meeting, it’s brought a sense of continuity and community that was needed.
“It’s not ideal, but like most things it’s gotten better over time,” she said.
It’s been especially helpful for the library’s The Next Chapter book club, which caters to young adults and adults with intellectual and developmental learning disabilities.
“That’s the group that breaks my heart to not be able to see,” Carlson said. “But at the same time, they’re the group that has gotten me through the COVID crisis with hope in my heart because they’re just the warmest, most loving group of people.“
Nevada County Assistant Clerk-Recorder/Registrar of Voters Natalie Adona faced similar challenges, trying to keep people connected to government services when the public had limited office access.
“I don’t think that it really hit me until the state shut down, I was sort of still deep in the primary election and making sure that that election got wrapped up,” she said.
“For me, when they closed down, I had to wipe away my preconceived notions of what this was. I mean, I feel like I was just sort of treading into unknown territory at the time.”
In her assistant clerk-recorder role, Adona said they worked around the government shutdown early in the pandemic through online e-recording and setting up an appointment system for things like marriage licenses, which must be done in person.
On the election side, a lot of the change was mitigated by the county’s experience with vote by mail, which the entire state switched to for the November presidential election.
“Fortunately, it wasn’t a drastic change for our voters,” Adona said. “Whenever you introduce a change in elections, it takes a while for people to learn and some people are mistrustful of changes. So, fortunately, on that end of things, we were already well poised to to serve people.”
Because of that, the biggest challenges were logistics like making sure venues had enough hand sanitizer, gloves and sneeze guards, she said.
But no matter how successful the pandemic workarounds have been, Adona she’s ready to get back to serving the public in person.
“Government is meant to be sort of open and available to people. I think we all sort of missed the interaction,“ Adona said.
”That’s what I’m looking forward to most. I certainly didn’t get into government to not interact with people.“
John Orona is a staff writer for The Union, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun, email him at email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.
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