How Can Libraries Operate Digitally Amid COVID?

December 21, 2020

The doors to libraries across the country began closing back in the spring as the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak went from one community to the next. From college libraries to community libraries, archives’ hallowed halls became silent, closing their doors to students and community groups, workshops, and people in need.

But while the virus has shut down traditional services like checking out books or logging on to computers, it has not displaced the wide range of resources available, including research support, online check-out, and virtual gatherings. Some libraries have been innovative by promoting book bikes and virtual hangouts for book clubs and author talks.

These helpful resources keep readers and community members engaged with their libraries as they look for ways to pass the time while staying indoors this winter. And while there’s no definitive timeline of when libraries will reopen, even at limited capacities, there are several ways in which they can connect people with resources.

How Libraries Can Operate During COVID-19

Libraries have been closed, for the most part, since this past spring. At first, items like books, archives, movies, and magazines were closed to the public. But since then, library management has encouraged their communities to go online to check out books that users can download to their computers, phones, and tablets. Audiobooks are also an option, as well as digital video streams.

These digital choices are nothing new as libraries have been promoting digital alternatives to physical products for more than a decade. But with the spread of COVID-19, the dependency and focus on digital resources has taken center stage.

But not all libraries have to stick to just digital lending as some have opted for remote or curbside pickup. Just like restaurants that have had to reconfigure their dining services to only feature carry out or delivery, libraries can do the same with their resources. For example, in Vancouver, British Columbia, the city’s public library system allows users to schedule a time to pick up their book holds. Users provide the necessary identification information through a window, then move back six feet while library staff leave a bag of requested materials outside the door.

When materials are returned through the book drop, staff members leave them untouched for up to 72 hours as a safety precaution.

Libraries can also utilize remote lockers like Amazon customers have been doing to retrieve their e-commerce orders. Lockers provide access to physical materials during the ongoing pandemic but are safer for both customers and staff members, promoting contactless services. This allows the library to reach more local people and contributes to expanding a community’s reading population.

While users are quickly adapting to virtual living, including work, play, and entertainment, they are still craving human connections and regular in-person events. Libraries must appeal to users with virtual services and innovative options to keep them engaged and plugged into reading and resources.

The Future of Libraries in America

Moving forward, as libraries do begin to reopen to the public, the first consideration should be to protect staff members and users. While laws are not yet clear on how COVID-19 will affect the legal landscape, there may be an onslaught of claims rested against libraries for their mismanagement or negligence around keeping people safe. This is why bringing together informed sanitization efforts and well-rounded library insurance is essential to keep libraries safe moving forward.

Libraries may opt to keep social distancing intact, including putting up plexiglass at kiosks, keeping library check-out lines spaced out, and closing down every other computer for public use. Staff may also use gloves and masks to control the spread of any potential future virus at bay and require users to wear their masks while inside.

While there is no guarantee libraries won’t present opportunities for the virus to spread once again, taking steps to keep people engaged while safe is the key to a healthy library environment.

About Regan Agency

A family-owned business, Long Island-based Regan Agency, has more than 35 years of experience serving the library insurance and risk management needs of Tri-State residents and businesses. We have earned the trust of our clients based on our integrity and commitment to offer individuals and businesses quality library insurance products at competitive prices backed by unparalleled responsive service. Just give one of our professionals a call at 631-669-3434.