Libraries are an integral part of every community, serving as trusted sources of information, resources, and services. Unfortunately, recent times have forced libraries around the world to temporarily close their doors.
But people need libraries now more than ever. People are searching for training opportunities, technology, or just some good books to read, so the number of library cardholders is growing rapidly during these challenging times. One library issued 418 library cards within three weeks of its closing. Another experienced a 389% increase in requests for electronic cards.
So what’s the safest way for all new and existing library members to borrow books while their libraries are closed or slowly reopening?
If readers already have the ability to browse an online catalog and select and reserve books from their local libraries, all that’s left is figuring out a contactless pickup method. Here are a few ways libraries can get books and other items to their patrons while respecting social distancing guidelines.
Many libraries have had to shift their services and events to online platforms, where communities can access them from home. That includes promoting digital access to resources, like ebook borrowing.
Ebooks have their draw — a reader can borrow one instantaneously, and when the lending period ends, the book simply disappears from the reader’s device. But some libraries may not offer ebooks yet or only have a limited collection. And most readers — 65% — still prefer physical over electronic copies anyway, according to a recent survey.
Luckily, there are a few ways libraries can continue to offer physical books without person-to-person contact.
Books by mail
Traditionally, libraries have provided books by mail services as a way for homebound readers to borrow and return books, audiobooks, CDs, and other items. With more people staying at home these days, some libraries may choose to expand this service to anyone who wishes to use it.
There’s a risk, of course, that library books and other loaned resources could get lost or damaged in transit. So libraries might want to encourage pickup services for borrowers who are still able to leave home.
Libraries that offer curbside checkout have seen surprising success in recent months. One library reported that over 5,000 of its patrons used the service in April — four times more than in March.
With curbside checkout, library staff can check library cards through car windows and bring borrowed books to patrons’ vehicles. This keeps visitors safely outside the library, minimizes their interaction with staff, and limits pathogen exposure.
The downside is the growing popularity of this service might be overwhelming for staff and leave borrowers waiting in lines or parking lots to retrieve their books.
Smart lockers are equally as efficient at securing library transactions as they are at protecting packages. Once patrons reserve their books and other items online, librarians can locate them and place them into designated lockers. Readers will then receive a notification with instructions on how to use the locker system to pick up their books.
As long as there’s WiFi access, libraries can install lockers outside, allowing patrons to retrieve their reservations without entering the building. The lockers are secure enough that libraries may even choose to use them to loan out laptops, tablets, and other electronic devices.
When they’re finished, patrons can easily return borrowed items through the locker system as well. This keeps everything out of drop boxes, where they’re typically mixed in with other returns and run the risk of damage.