The coronavirus outbreak has had a devastating effect on library services.
With the buildings closed and stay-at-home orders in effect, most libraries have continued to provide digital services. Many have found innovative new ways to support their communities.
They are all planning how to reopen once the crisis has passed.
An article about the Alliance, Ohio’s Rodman Public Library shows what digital services can look like while a library is shut down for COVID-19. It had to furlough 27 of its 39 staff members. While it has had to cancel most of its programming, it remains committed to summer reading. Its program will, of course, have to be online until it can reopen to the public.
It also offers some weekly children’s programming on Facebook Live. Reference service continues via email and text messaging. The library continues to offer access to electronic resources, including ebooks, audiobooks, and research databases.
And for people who need wi-fi internet, they can access it from the parking lot even outside the library’s regular hours.
Lawton, OklahomaThe Lawton Public Library in Oklahoma has kept as many normal services as possible. It provides free printing services and circulates books and other materials with curbside assistance.
Its reference service has actually expanded. People phone City Hall with more questions than it is prepared to handle. So it forwards the overflow to the library. Reference librarians are more prepared than other city staff to correct misinformation and notify patrons of reliable sources.
The library has had to move its summer reading program online but still awards points and prizes. The crisis has led the library to offer at least one new service. Using its 3D printer, the staff makes respirator masks and face shields.
Farmers Branch, Texas
The Farmers Branch Manske Library in Texas handles circulation during the pandemic a little differently. It delivers items to people’s homes. Patrons with a library card can request materials with the normal online hold process. Three days later, Parks & Recreation staff—masked and gloved—deliver the materials in a sealed bag. The delay minimizes the chances of spreading COVID-19.
Because the library’s book drops are inaccessible, patrons can’t return materials until it reopens. Therefore, the library imposes a limit of five items until then.
Estes Park, Colorado
The coronavirus outbreak won’t last forever. Little by little, states are beginning to modify their stay-at-home orders. Colorado calls its new phase “safer-at-home.” Therefore, libraries are starting to prepare for eventually reopening their buildings to the public. The Estes Valley Library in Estes Park has announced part of its plan for restarting regular library services.
At present, most staff work from home. Those who must do on-site work are practicing conventional safety measures. They wear masks and gloves, wash their hands frequently, sanitize regularly, and stay at least six feet apart.
The library is not accepting the return of borrowed materials. It has suspended due dates and fines. Like most other libraries, it has continued to offer streaming and other digital services.
The library will not be able to reopen until it has ample safety supplies, which are hard to get.
When it does, it will start accepting returns. Those materials will be quarantined for a week before they return to the shelves. That’s twice as long as data indicates is required to assure that they don’t have the virus. Abundance of caution and assuring the public of materials’ safety explains the extra time in quarantine.
Circulation of materials will take place at first by curbside pickup.
An article about the Marion & Ed Hughes Public Library in Nederland, Texas gives a detailed description of what curbside library service can look like.
Beginning May 4, library cardholders can log onto the library’s website or call or text the library. Assuming the item they want is available, they put a hold on it. They may reserve up to five items. Then they wait for the library to call to tell them the materials are ready. Ready means, among other things, that no other patron has used them in the past nine days.
Pickup takes place in a two-hour window in the morning or a two and a half-hour window in the afternoon Monday through Friday. The patrons call the library to let them know what kind of vehicle they will use.
When they arrive at the library, they must stay in their car with the windows rolled up. Library staff will come to verify the library card and photo ID and then take the items to a pickup area. The patrons get out of their cars to get the materials only after the staff has gone back inside.
Some libraries have already been offering this service. I read of another library that puts items in the patron’s trunk. Or, if no one is in it, the back seat.
In Nederland, patrons may use exterior book drops to return materials if they like, but it’s not required. Other libraries refuse to accept the return of materials until the coronavirus outbreak is over.
The Goshen Public Library in Indiana has already opened its building for limited use. People may use computers to apply for unemployment and other benefits. Limited use of fax service, photocopying, and scanning are also available. Patrons may call the library for an appointment between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM Monday through Friday. But the building is actually open only Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
The first appointments are reserved for the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Staff strictly limit the number of people allowed in the building.
Normal circulation of non-digital materials will not be available until some unspecified time in the future.