Friday, July 31, 2020

It's the place where books are free

Our library closed in March, right at the beginning of the pandemic in this part of the world. It stayed tightly shut week after week while they developed a plan to allow patrons to use the library while limiting contact/risk. Finally they came up with a curb-side offering, which honestly didn't look that alluring to me. 

I'm a browser. 

Not, like, a web browser. 

A book browser.

I like to walk through the stacks, pick a book up, flip it open to see if it's a story I'll actually want to read to my kids (or if it's something my kids would want to read on their own). I like to set my children loose and have them pick books off the shelf, to allow them the thrill of finding that next great read. If I happen to be looking for a particular book, I like to also see what's beside it on the shelf. In short, libraries are a very physical thing for me. 

Doing a curbside pickup didn't seem very appealing to me.

I don't like paging through an online catalogue trying to decide what to check out. I don't like having to judge a book by its cover (and a short blurb). I don't like that I have to wait for all my holds to trickle in before I can pick them up (I mean, I guess that's on me; I could go pick each book up as they email me that it's ready but, uh, no thanks). 

So I ordered a bunch of books (anthologies, mostly) on Amazon/AbeBooks, which weirdly requires me to page through an online catalogue in order to decide what I want, and we've been working our way through what we've got. We have thousands of books in our house and Benjamin and Zoë are at such different reading levels that so many of our books are unexplored by them—Benjamin is getting into our older-reader chapter books and Zoë is happily and independently going through all our picture books and younger-reader chapter books. It's really been fine.

But now that we've been in school—for 24 days already!—we're starting to feel pinched by our lack of library access. When I'm tired of directing lessons I like to point to the library box and tell the children to go learn something on their own. I haven't been able to do much. I mean, I did it for science today. I didn't feel like helping the kids work through our next couple of science experiments but we do happen to have a quite a large collection of books on space (rather on purpose, mind you) so I told them to just go read some stuff about space. Completely in line with our unit of study. 

New books are sometimes more fun to explore, however, and I could tell my children were getting hungrier and hungrier for some book learning.

The library actually opened its doors at the end of June—on my birthday! I couldn't make myself go, however, because that's right around when COVID cases had really started picking up speed in our area. It seemed to frivolous a thing to make a trip for. But, like I said, we're a month out from that. And there's no way we're going to make it through the school year without the library (we used to go once a week!) so today I talked myself into go. With Andrew's help.

"It's no more dangerous than grocery shopping," Andrew coached me. "Elevated risk, but not a terrible risk. You're in, you're out. It'll be fine. I do it all the time...every two weeks."

"I don't even have to talk to anyone," I said. "It's all self-checkout, anyway."

"Just put on your mask, put on your gloves, go inside. Toss the gloves on your way out."

"Automatic doors. I don't even have to touch any handles."

"Slather hand sanitizer on everything. Drive home. You're good to go."

"I can do this."

"You can do this."

I did it. I grabbed the library bags, my wallet, my mask, my gloves, some hand sanitizer...and set off on a wild adventure to the library. I literally have gone no where since March (besides the church for Benjamin's baptism, to the park to use the walking trails about three times, and a drive-by baby shower for my cousin Deedee) so this was a big step for me. 

I drove all the way to the library and did a very good job at not panicking at everything even though traffic felt very heavy and there were emergency vehicles that I had to move over for (I appreciate emergency services; changing lanes makes me want to cry, though), but when I got to the library the parking lot was deserted. 

Surely there should be someone here, I reasoned. Either I have the place to myself (unlikely), or they're not open.

I pulled into a parking spot and grabbed my phone so I could pull up their website. Somehow I had missed seeing that due to rising COVID numbers in our community—including among library staff—and due to patrons refusing to put on masks even when asked nicely to just wear the darn things, all county libraries closed their doors to the public on July 23 (one month and one day after they opened them). 

So I went home (all that anxiety for nothing!) and I waded through the catalogue and put 25 books on hold. 

I'm trying not to feel hard done by that only one of my holds has come through as of yet. I purposely tried to select books that were available at my branch thinking—evidently mistakenly—that they would be ready sooner since they wouldn't involve any sort of transfer. But I was wrong, apparently, because even with five working hours left in the day the library only managed to pull one of my books. 

I realize that they have a lot of books to pull; I'm not the only library patron to put items on hold today. But somehow I figured this would work more like a restaurant, like I would place my order and someone would fill my order and then would let me know my order was ready to pick up. But it is not like that. I will, evidently, get 25 separate notifications telling me that my books are ready. And then I can go pick them up. 

Fortunately, while holds are usually only held for 48 hours once they are "ready," they have extended that period to 3 weeks, so I have three weeks to pick up my books (or the staff have three weeks to get around to finding my books). 

I wish, somehow, that this process could be more streamlined. Like, if a patron limited their book selections to a single branch, I feel those holds could be gathered relatively quickly. It could be an expedited process, or sorts. 

Another service I wish was offered at this time would be to ask a librarian to just pick out twenty picture books for me. Like, just say, "I have three kids: a boy (2), a girl (5), a boy (8). Pick out some things you think they would like to read. Just some of your favourites. Whatever looks good. We just need something new to read." And then they could just surprise me with something.

I don't know how that's different from just me blindly choosing from the library catalogue. It just feels different somehow. 

Anyway, we're just waiting for all our books to be "ready" so we can pick them up. I'm hopeful that it will be within the next couple of days. 

I wonder how other libraries are handling this sort of situation. I know several libraries offered a drive-through service this spring. Our library seemed to take some time before it worked out how to do this. And would the service be different if they were a free-standing library, as opposed to a branch-based library (where the offered collection holdings are scattered across multiple buildings in the county).


  1. Oh, how disappointing!! But it was probably good for you to do that driving, so it was not a total loss.

  2. Our library was completely shut for awhile, but when Phase 2 went into effect, they offered curbside. I generally like browsing, but didn't mind this since I could choose authors I already know that I like, and I also requested several New Books that the library website featured.

    I know when we return books, they don't check them in for a few days. Someone told my mom that they basically set them aside for three days (at least) maybe so they are somehow sanitized (???). And then they are offered for pick up. I wonder if that is what happened with some of your books, or if your people are just slow. I know they said here they would have limited staff so they could socially-distance better, and people can call to put items on hold or do it online. Maybe they just don't have enough people to gather books. Who knows?

    Sorry they had to close again, but maybe you'll eventually like the curbside thing. You could just put some random books on hold, and let it be like a surprise when you go to pick them up and see what all you got! :)

    1. I'm trying to be patient, I know. And I did just choose a bunch of random books, so hopefully some will be good. They still have one book ready, so it's a good thing I have three weeks to pick them up (or else my holds would expire before I got to them). I understand why they aren't very streamlined (these are crazy times) but it does sometimes seem like my branch is a little on the slow side...

      Josie said at her library holds are available the next day (she works at a free-standing library, though, so they don't have to worry about transferring items).

      I think setting items aside for a few days is a good idea, but then also worry about late fees. Hahaha! I know at our library staff were wearing masks and gloves, so I assume they are returning items fairly immediately and then maybe letting them sit? I don't know.

      We're all just playing things by ear at this point, aren't we? :)

    2. Yes,my library is usually pretty fast in filling order despite the reduced hours. I didn't say that we can only pick up books on MWF 10 to 2, or T/Th 2 to 6, but it's better than having NO books!

      And they are waiving fines/late fees until they are open normally. I don't know how long they are holding books (usually it's 3 days) as I tend to pick mine up right away. :)

      Hopefully your library will get a little more efficient soon. :)

  3. Ours is doing curbside pickup as well and holds do seem to take longer. But it’s better than nothing! Since it’s a mile from our house, it’s a good excuse to go on a walk (and visit the donut shop on the way back.)

    1. I’m doing ebook checkouts for me, but physical books for the baby. We’re in the read everything over and over again phase and we need some variety. ;)