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Libraries across the state are planning to expand their online services and provide curbside drop-offs for books as their buildings close down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Burlington, the closure of the Fletcher Free Library took effect Wednesday morning after the mayor announced a state of emergency Monday and ordered programming be halted at the library, Burlington City Arts and the city’s Parks, Recreation & Waterfront Department until April 6.
Mary Danko, the Fletcher Free director, said the organization already has many online offerings that staff will be looking to expand in the coming weeks.
“We have downloadable e-books, downloadable audiobooks, we have movie streaming, we have language classes you can take, we have classes that teach you Excel,” she said. “All those services are there and we’re hoping people will find them and use them.”
For curbside pickup, she said they plan to have people put items on hold through their online library accounts or over the phone, and then schedule a time for pickup, at which point staff will deliver the items to people in their cars.
Other libraries have chosen to close along with schools in their communities in order to ensure that people stay home and follow social distancing recommendations.
“It was such a hard decision because libraries are all about service,” said Starr LaTronica, the director of the Brook Memorial Library in Brattleboro. “We do everything we can to connect with our community to make sure they have the resources they need, so it just broke our hearts to close.”
LaTronica said that they have not set a date to reopen, and that the decision will likely depend on local schools. In the meantime, she encouraged people to check out online resources, including e-books, classes and the movie streaming service Kanopy. The library is also arranging to drop books off on a table outside at agreed upon times when patrons will pick them up.
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“We’ve been devising a way to get people a library card if they don’t already have one,” she said. “We have developed an online form that should be ready to go live Wednesday morning.”
Becky Manahan, the assistant director of the St. Albans Free Library, said that even though her library will still be able to offer online services and book pickup, closing the physical space will still impact many who depend on the library for an internet connection, a warm place to be inside or a gathering place.
“The past maybe five years, libraries have become more about connections versus collections,” she said. “We have a lot of visitations that go on here daily, which is why we feel really badly about closing.”
Manahan said the St. Albans library was extremely busy Tuesday as people stocked up on entertainment before the building closed Wednesday.
“People were leaving with piles and piles of books and DVDs,” she said.
Danko observed a similar spike in activity at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, where she said there was over a 40% increase in the number of books checked out daily from Sunday and Tuesday.
Danko said the Burlington library is brainstorming ways to continue human connections between staff and patrons during the shutdown.
“We’re going to add online chat,” Danko said. “So when you go to our website there will always be a librarian available during our regular open hours to chat with you and give you any support that you need.”
The Burlington library is also building a resource list of good at-home book-related activities for families, and they plan to launch a virtual book club in place of some of their usual in-person book discussions. The first book will be “David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens, which is available online for free as part of the public domain.
“We’re hoping to put some of our programming in an online format,” Danko said. “We’re going to have online book discussions, maybe online storytimes for kids. So you can still see your librarians providing community programming, it just might be in a different way.”
Danko said they are also suspending late fees for overdue items and instituting automatic renewals so people can keep books as long as they want, unless there is a hold placed on the item. Danko said that books are best returned at the library’s drop slot.
Danko said that staff have been wiping down books as they are returned, but recommended that any library patrons interested in cleaning items further use disinfectant wipes or sprays and a soft cloth.
Danko hopes people continue to take advantage of library services.
“Books can be this really private experience that’s just between you and the book, but it can also be an experience that you share with others,” she said. “I’m hoping that we see those things happen. More people reading for the escape and also as a way to help build community.”
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