Love in the Time of Covid: An Overview of the Pandemic from a Library Perspective
I’m writing this while in a COVID-19-induced fog. After two and a half years of this thing, it finally got me, and I have just enough energy to crank out a few words on the topic.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the library has done everything we could think of to help our patrons get through it. I will never forget working on the Circulation Desk on the last day we were open in March 2020. We checked out more than 3,000 items to patrons in one afternoon! I set up an extra check-out station to help move things along, and even so, there were long lines. After we closed that day, the place looked like the aftermath of a 90 percent off sale at Nordstrom Rack: books just tossed every which way, shelves cleared of items. And, if you recall, this was when we thought the lockdown was for a paltry two weeks.
Just four months after that, we partially reopened for service but did not open the building. We introduced Books-to-Go, our curbside, touchless book, and media service. Books-to-Go was the brainchild of longtime librarian Rebecca Brown. As with many innovations that came about because of the pandemic, we have decided to keep this one. We also have decided to keep the book return bin open at all times instead of just when we’re closed to accommodate those who are still uncomfortable coming indoors.
We’ve evolved in our procedures. For example, when it wasn’t clear how the virus was transmitted, we quarantined the books for several days in order for the virus to deteriorate. Once it was clear that this was not a mode of transmission, we stopped doing it.
Our children’s programs went online – Circle Time, Spanish Circle Time, Sketch Club, and so forth. The library’s weekly staff meetings are still online, even though staff has returned to the office. We find that it enables people who may not be scheduled to be in during that time to participate. Oh, and I am writing this and editing the rest of the library’s newsletter items from my bedroom, where I am isolating from my spouse, hoping he doesn’t catch this.
One year after Books-to-Go began, we opened the library building. We had just welcomed a new library director and were saying goodbye to retiring Children and Youth Services Librarian Karen MacPherson. People were cautious about coming back, understandably. We required masks at the direction of the City Manager, and we placed several air purifiers around the library and computer center. The library staff still masks while at the circulation desk to protect themselves and the public. Some programs are still online, while others are in-person, often outdoors. Circle Time is now on the Library lawn unless it rains.
The library has suspended overdue fines during the pandemic. The only fines a patron will accumulate are for lost books. Overdue books will merely keep you from checking out new books. If you can’t find your overdue books, come talk to us! We won’t bite, and we will work with you.
One of our more innovative services to come out of this is the distribution of COVID-19 test kits along with KN-95 masks. In late January of this year, we began to distribute test kits and masks. To date, we have given out more than 10,000 test kits and close to 13,000 masks. We will continue this as long as we’re able and there is a need. Frequent testing is an important tool for containing this disease.
We no longer require masks while in the library and computer center. However, we strongly encourage it and have both adult
and child-size masks to give to patrons. This new variant is highly contagious, and I don’t recommend getting it.
The library staff safety protocols have been so effective that in two and a half years, I am only the second staff member to get COVID-19. I don’t know where I got it; I’m vaccinated and boosted, as is my spouse. I try to follow good masking practices, so who knows? I’m taking Paxlovid, so I should be fine. I’m just so very tired. And congested. Hopefully, by the time you read this, I will be back at work, fully recovered. Note: In case you were wondering about the headline, Love in the Time of Cholera is the title of an award-winning book by Nobel laureate Gabriel García-Márquez.
This article was featured in the August 2022 Newsletter. Visit the Takoma Park Newsletter webpage to see the full list of past newsletters.