‘We’re not using our library voices anymore’: How library workers are keeping materials safely circulating in the time of COVID-19
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As soon as the doors of Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs closed March 15 due to COVID-19, library staff began scheming and dreaming up ways to keep community members fully stocked with materials for their time in quarantine.
“We wanted to find a way to get people items — that was our main goal,” said Circulation Services Manager Michelle Dover.
During March and April, the library provided increased access to e-books, podcasts and films, created a lively social media presence of writing prompts along with a range of video classes and activities for kids and virtual book clubs. But when the state’s safer-at-home phase permitting curbside pickup dawned on May 4, library staff were ready with a whole new system, reconfigured for a socially distant world.
A patron can place an order for library materials to be borrowed and picked up curbside through the library’s online catalog or over the phone.
“That was one advantage — the library’s website was basically already set up for e-commerce,” Dover said.
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Once the order is placed, a whole new system is kicked into gear. Library staff collect the requested materials from across three departments — downstairs circulation, children’s and reference — as well as any materials that a patron has requested be printed. The materials are placed in a bag and labeled with the patron’s last name. Depending on when the order is placed and when library staff are scheduled for a socially distant shift, fulfilling an order generally takes a day, maybe two.
The patron is notified their bag is ready for pick up via their choice of an email, text or phone call. When the patron arrives at the library parking lot ready to pick up their materials, they call the library and let staff know they are there, or, if the patron doesn’t have a cell phone, they can call the library ahead of time from home.
Dover describes the process of sending materials through the final leg of their journey as an athletic event that’s part running relay between the holding carts — arranged in a horseshoe shape for easy access — and the pick-up table, part hollering out patrons’ last names like a short-order cook from behind her mask — all a flurry of activity to ensure the timing of the operation is efficient, organized and safe.
“We’re not using our library voices anymore,” Dover said.
At the end of it all, the patron will find their bag of materials waiting for them on a table just outside the library’s doors or, if requested, delivered right to their vehicle. And while the curbside pickup is contactless, library staff are available to answer questions from a safe 6 feet away.
“People will come up (to the pick-up table) with this thankfulness and an intention to share that,” Dover said. “It can be hard to see because of the masks, but I can see it in their eyes. That intentional thank you feels really good.”
In early May, the curbside pickup program began at three days per week, but the program’s demand almost immediately called for more. Tuesday and Thursday evening pick-ups were later added. Currently, the curbside pick-up program is offered from 10 a.m. to noon Mondays; 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays; 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesdays; 5 to 7 p.m. Thursdays; and 1 to 3 p.m. Fridays.
As of Tuesday, the library had distributed 3,197 physical books, audiobooks, CDs, DVDs and other materials to patrons through its curbside pick-up program. These totals don’t include e-books or other online materials, which have seen an increase in usage in the past several months.
As for the content of materials patrons are using, Dover has noted several trends.
“You have people who really want more information about science and pandemics, to help them grasp what’s going on,” she said, “and then you have people who don’t want to read about the pandemic, who are looking for something lighter.
“That’s really (the two categories of materials that people look for at the library) all the time,” she concluded. “Materials about information and materials for escapism and entertainment.”
Over the past week or so, Dover has also seen a major increase in patrons seeking materials about race and systems of inequality.
When materials are returned to the library, they are quarantined for at least 72 hours, in line with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, before being returned to their shelves and completing their full cycle through the curbside pick-up program.
All the while, library staff are continuing to add programs to the library’s offerings and encourage patrons to share any suggestions.
“People are welcome to give us feedback,” Dover said. “If we can come up with different solutions to meet people’s needs right now, we’re really open to that.”
Find more information about the Bud Werner Memorial Library curbside pick-up service and other programs at steamboatlibrary.org or by calling 970-879-0240.
The Hayden Public Library is also offering curbside pickup from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with evening hours from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays. In addition to curbside pick-up, the library also offers a table of free materials, appointments for faxing, copying and computer services, and delivery to Hayden and Craig. For more information or to set up a pick-up or appointment, call the Hayden Public Library at 970-276-3777 or visit haydenpubliclibrary.org.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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