I am all Zoom-ed out.

While I enjoy connecting with others, I must admit I look forward to days where online meetings are not part of my schedule. Over the past year, virtual meetings have become widespread in almost every aspect of life — from work and education to social relations and civic engagement.

We now gather from our living rooms, kitchens, basements, or our offices. Some gather alone, in solitude. Others gather amidst the chaos of their homes, juggling childcare, schedules, workspaces and electronic devices.

The benefits of technology and being able to meet virtually when we can’t in person have been significant in the past year, and have been something for many to rely on. I am grateful for technology and the opportunities it has provided us to get together for business and pleasure over the past year. It has undoubtedly helped us all to get by.

This virtual “reality” has been a lifeline during a difficult year, but has only reinforced the importance of actually being together. These circumstances highlight the value of a “third space” away from work and home obligations, a niche filled by libraries, and one easily taken for granted before the pandemic.

For some, virtual meetings were already an important part of their lives, connecting them with family, friends, colleagues and customers from afar. For others, 2020 introduced them to the world of online meetings or working from home, whether they liked it or not, with morning commutes replaced by clicking links.

Students found their classrooms to be drastically different with online learning, and parents with young children now find asynchronous learning tasks to be a daily part of their workload. At the library, our staff embraced online programming as soon as in-person programming was no longer possible.

From storytimes and the OPL Puppet Minute for youth to book clubs and classes for adults, our schedule continues to provide a wide variety of opportunities for all ages to engage, grow and learn.

Recent and upcoming library program offerings for adults reflect the times: Grief During COVID, Job Search Support Group, Witnessing Whiteness and Meet Libby (getting digital content from the library). The Evolution of Cheddar: From One to 20 Years and an Oregon Area Historical Society Presents program round out the schedule with fun and educational opportunities made possible through collaborations.

Though while there are certainly benefits to some aspects of the virtual world, its shortcomings have become more evident as it tries to emulate the life that we knew before.

Our family used a number of different platforms to connect together to celebrate recent holidays. It was nice to be able to talk and laugh together, yet it just wasn’t the same. I couldn’t help but feel the experience left much to be desired.

At the heart of the matter, there is a greater opportunity to connect in a meaningful way in-person that the virtual world simply cannot replicate for me.

Sharing a conversation, smile or laugh together is an experience I find most fulfilling in person. Being together in a shared space makes it easier to build relationships, trust, and a sense of community.

If nothing else, the pandemic has emphasized the need for truly meaningful connections. It has reinforced the importance of third spaces like the library. It has taught us that our lives are not as easily virtualized as some have predicted.

The voices and laughter of children, teens and adults attending programs or meeting in the Sue Ames room at the library is eerily absent at the moment. For now, this space has been repurposed as much-needed staff workspace to allow proper social distancing.

And while the library endeavors to provide the best possible services under present circumstances, we long for the day when we can fully resume our role as a community hub and welcome you back into our space.

In the meantime, we hope to see you for curbside pickup of materials, printing or copies. You are also welcome to join us virtually for a program, enjoy our digital content on our YouTube channel or Facebook videos or explore our other online resources.

Jennifer Endres Way is the director of the Oregon Public Library.