Turns out humans aren’t the only ones social distancing in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Books, DVDs, CDs and magazines are being isolated too.
When materials are returned to the Kaukauna Public Library (KPL) through its outside book drop, they now land on a sheet marked with the day’s date. Library staff carefully drag the sheet aside at the end of each day, making sure not to come in physical contact with the materials on it. After 72 hours, staff are able to handle and shelve the materials as the threat of coronavirus contamination has passed.
This is life during a pandemic.
“Paramount to all of this is safety,” says Ashley Thiem-Menning, Kaukauna Public Library director. “The biggest challenge has been keeping up with all the changes and how rapidly information is changing.”
As information evolves, so do policies at KPL which closed to the public on March 17 in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Interlibrary book loans have been halted. Library card expiration dates have been extended into late summer so patrons will not experience interruptions to online services. Library staff still report to work, but practice social distancing by working on tasks independently in various parts of the building.
But closing the library to the public has presented some unforeseen opportunities. Thiem-Menning says libraries routninetly conduct “weeds,” the systematic removal of materials from the library’s collection that haven’t been checked out for five years or more. This is a time-consuming, but important task, as the weeded materials are sold to generate funds for new, more relevant materials. A complete, building-wide weed usually takes several months, but under these circumstances, it could be finished in a matter of weeks, Thiem-Menning says.
“This is work that is frankly easier to do when you don’t have a service desk to staff and phones to answer,” she says. “This is an opportunity we aren’t wasting.”
While patronage at the library has come to an abrupt halt, programming hasn’t. The library’s regular programming, such as preschool storytimes and read alongs, are being streamed through Facebook Live and new programs, like social distancing DIY craft tutorials, are being added to the lineup.
Thiem-Menning says the first Facebook Live storytime was extremely successful with 60 viewers tuning in – the second live storytime had 90 viewers.
“It’s definitely opened up our eyes to how integrated technology is with our lives, so I think in the future we will continue programs like this,” she says.
Other programs include a Facebook Live reading of “Charlotte’s Web” with a librarian and her cat named Wilbur, local history segments and online book clubs. Materials like books, children’s projects, tax forms and non-perishable food items were left on carts outside the library’s doors for residents to take free of charge.
For regular patrons of the library, this continuation of services can be a lifeline, Thiem-Menning says.
“We are getting creative on how to keep people busy, but also safe,” she says. “These programs can help bring in that normalcy and comfort during a strange time for all of us.”