As Long Island entered phase three of reopening from the coronavirus shutdown, local libraries are turning to curbside pickup to help patrons access physical collections without setting foot into the buildings themselves, in accordance with social distancing mandates.
All 110 public libraries in Nassau and Suffolk counties are or soon will be offering contactless services. Though each library has its own policies for curbside pickup, in most areas, patrons can now reserve items at their local library online or by phone, and schedule an appointment for pickup.
“We’re talking about reopening libraries, but they never stopped working,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran told reporters last week during a news conference outside the Farmingdale Library.
While stay-at-home orders were in place, public libraries played a key role connecting patrons with digital collections, online services, and increased virtual programming. Nassau libraries approved up to 6,000 new library cards during stay-at-home orders, according to Nassau Library System Director Caroline Ashby, while Kevin Verbesey, director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, said the system saw up to 2,500 temporary library cards issued per month since mid-March.
The new curbside pickups have been a hit.
“In our first week [of curbside pickup] alone, we were able to complete 180 transactions,” said Danielle Paisley, director of the Patchogue-Medford Library, one of the largest in the Suffolk system.
The return process has also been designed with patrons’ safety in mind with returned books being placed in “quarantine,” to ensure proper sanitation. Library patrons in Suffolk can even reserve items from libraries system-wide using Live-brary.com, which connects libraries across the county, according to Verbesey.
Beyond standard library materials, Patchogue-Medford Library is pioneering a program that allows patrons to pick up print-outs.
“One of the services patrons are looking for is computer use, and it’s been difficult to let people in the library at this point,” Paisley said of the decision to add printing services to the curbside pickup menu. “We realized that most of the time, patrons use the computers to print.”
Under the new program, patrons need only email the library with their specified documents, and the printed material would be available for curbside pickup.
This role is in addition to the unprecedented number of new patrons accessing digital collections, which include Overdrive (e-books and audiobooks), Flipster (e-magazines), and Kanopy (movies), among others. Across Suffolk, demand for digital collections increased by more than 50 percent, with a 50 percent jump in new and unique users, Verbesey says. The data show that patrons are not only discovering the library, but also all that the library has to offer beyond their collections.
“We’ve seen a significant uptick in the use of homework help services, because of all the parents who are now homeschooling their kids,” Verbesey said, quoting the increase at around 25 percent.
He also noted that more patrons were calling in to ask librarians reference questions, as well as participating in community-building events such as online book groups and online storytimes. While fielding huge patron demand, libraries in Nassau and Suffolk counties also quickly responded to the COVID-19 crisis by 3D-printing personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers.
“Our libraries are here, no matter what, and we’re very grateful for them,” said Curran.