Libraries hope their return will not be overdue

For many people, libraries provide essential services. But getting back to full service means libraries won’t look the same.


May 18, 2020

If you see a row of cars snaking across the parking lot of your local library, don’t be alarmed: That’s the book checkout line.

As states start to reopen, libraries are getting in on curbside pickup. A full return to service is still far off in many states, but librarians haven’t let the pandemic Dewey decimate their work:

  • In Hillsborough County, Florida, libraries are offering drive-thru options for people to grab public assistance forms.
  • Instead of in-person trivia games for kids, a Pennsylvania library built a Harry Potter digital escape room in Google Docs.
  • One Virginia library launched a magazine — called the “Quaranzine” — to tell local stories during lockdown.
  • If you ever showed up to the library to ask for homework assistance, your librarian didn’t forget you: In Seattle, librarians are reaching out to kids to ask how they can help them with homework.

Libraries can’t shelve their most essential services 

With their doors closed, some libraries have found workarounds to reach the community members who need help with more than just checking out books. Libraries are taking public assistance forms online, or moving WiFi hotspots to the parking lot.

A Colorado library district converted itself into a mini call center. Older people are dialing in not just to ask for advice about using the internet but also because they just want to talk. According to the librarians, they want to be there “just to say hi” when people need to hear another voice.

Reopening is not going to be easy

Spaces built on sharing are not faring well in this pandemic — ahem, WeWork — and libraries probably won’t look the same for a while.

The head of the New York Public Library has considered quarantining returned books for several days after they arrive. Those public-access desktops? They may have to be moved apart.

And if some of your usual librarians are missing, that may be because they’re working as contact tracers now.

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