Sitting under a small event tent, Knate Leopold plays chess on a laptop set up in a temporary outdoor library downtown.

Leopold says he doesn’t have his own home but finds refuge in Atlanta’s downtown area and frequently visits nearby libraries.

He used to play chess daily at the Central Library before the branch closed for renovation; now his virtual matches take place during Library on the Lawn hours, anywhere from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday.

The Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System and the nonprofit community development organization Central Atlanta Progress organized Library on the Lawn in Woodruff Park last summer and reopened in April, primarily to meet the local community’s needs during the renovation. The initiative also has allowed librarians to provide resources to those who wouldn’t normally venture inside a library, said Amanda Densmore, a community engagement librarian who noted that other branches are trying similar outreach initiatives.

“We have a lot of regulars and they’re so gracious,” Densmore said.

Employees from multiple branches volunteer to staff the outdoor library and monitor computer usage. When weather permits, they receive an average of 30 visitors a day, Densmore said. Ten laptops, bought with grant money, are available for public use and can connect to Wi-Fi. A library card is not required.

“Library on the Lawn” first opened a couple blocks from Central Library in early July 2018 and closed in December. Library staff tried to reopen in January with space heaters and makeshift walls surrounding a tent, but windy weather prompted a shutdown for the season, Densmore said.

As of June 25, 14 branches in the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System are closed for renovations, according to the library system’s website.

Julia Padgett, manager of the system’s library branch in the Atlanta suburb of Roswell, organized a similar initiative in April called Pop-Up in the Park after the branch closed for renovations in August.

At first, she mirrored the structure used in Woodruff Park then realized the laptops weren’t as popular. The people who came most often were families or nannies with children, and setting up in parks with playgrounds proved most successful.

“A lot of them really miss the library,” Padgett said. “They have kids, and they want their kids to have books every week.”

Every Thursday except the first of the month, staffers issue library cards, help patrons check out books and provide a children’s story time.

Because the events take place in varying locations and depend on weather conditions, the organizers post updates on social media and communicate with regular attendees through email, Padgett said.

“The branches, especially the ones closing, are trying to get out and reach those who wouldn’t normally go to the library,” she said. “It’s meeting two needs.”

Densmore said she hopes to provide books for checkout at Woodruff Park later this summer. Officials expect the Central Library to reopen next year but might continue “Library on the Lawn” even after renovations are complete.

Tony Rice uses a laptop at the Library on the Lawn in Woodruff Park, in Atlanta. Rice uses these computers to research or fill out applications while the Central Library is closed for renovations. (Andrea Smith/AP)

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