Tips for Reopening the Library


This is a guest post from Alison Pruntel, Manager, Technology & Materials at Fauquier County Public Library in Warrenton, VA.

Many libraries are starting curbside pickup to serve their communities during the COVID-19 public health crisis. To prepare for this change, both your ILS and your processes must be adjusted. As an essential service to the community, Fauquier County Public Library started offering curbside service 24 hours after closing our buildings (March 16). Due to staffing issues, we were originally only able to roll out curbside at 2 of our 3 locations. However, as of May 1, we now offer this service at all three locations. In addition, we also now accept returns on a limited basis.

Below are some of our “lessons learned.” We are fortunate that in addition to being responsible for only 3 branches, our region, about 45 minutes outside of Washington DC, has been minimally impacted by COVID-19. While staff had to adjust to many changes (on top of worrying about a pandemic), the returns we’ve received from our community have been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, at the end of March, one of our regular patrons mailed us a check for $2,000, thanking us for continuing to serve the community!

It’s been a challenging time for everyone, but even with bumps and a bit of chaos, we have persevered. Our staff continues to work and get paid. With budget cuts looming, we know continuing to provide service in a new, “contactless” way will ensure the library is looked upon as an essential service.

For Staff

  • Start slow. This is new to the staff and patrons and can be especially stressful to the circulation staff.
  • Control flow. Do small batches of holds and checkouts to control flow and not overwhelm staff or cause crowding at the curbside for pickups.
  • Maintain the 6 foot distance within the library. Allocate staff to different areas, not just to check out. We assign some as runners (taking materials out), some answering the phones (patrons arrived to pick up), some putting together the holds, etc.
  • Adjust your processes. For example, for curbside, we check out items for our patrons after they are notified to pick up. We also don’t require patrons to show us their card/ID. This allows us to bag the items with the due slip and print collateral promoting relevant services like RBdigital, OverDrive, research databases, etc. While a few patrons were initially upset that items were already checked out to them before they pulled up to the curb, they quickly adjusted after we explained it works like online grocery pickup or curbside takeout.
  • Promote library resources. As I mentioned we are promoting digital and audio book services with our curbside service. Printed collateral (bookmarks, handouts, etc.) are included in the bags along with the items the patron has checked out. We highlight a different service each week. For example, one week we included a handout that covers all the services included in the Rbdigital app. This week we are including a handout with resources for families and jobseekers. We’ve definitely seen our usage of e-resources explode since mid-March!
  • Document all system changes. One day we will open back up to the public and will need to revert to previous settings. Examples include entries in the days closed table, adjustments to the patron blocks table, etc.
  • Bags. Order the bags you’re going to put materials in as soon as you can. We started with recycled plastic and quickly switched to Uline recycled paper bags:
    • Item # S-19974 Cub recycled shopping bag 8 x4 ¾ x 10 ¼ Small
    • Item # S-19976 Vogue recycled shopping bag 16 x 6 X 12 Large
  • Have plenty of personal protective equipment. Make sure staff is “on board” with your new procedures, and for those that show up/work during this, try and show some appreciation (we get a meal one day a week from one of the local restaurants doing pickup/delivery). Chocolate always helps!

For Patrons

  • If possible, roll out at all locations at the same time. We did eventually start curbside and returns at all 3 locations. Prior to doing so, patrons were confused, feeling it was unfair, and it was difficult to make the messages/instructions clear.
  • Have good signage. Larger signs needed to be visible from vehicles. Post smaller signs close to your pickup area (in our case, under a portico or in the lobby) with directions of what to do, who to call, hours. We place the bagged items on a table to maintain contactless service.
  • Use cones or other markers to maintain social distancing. We use signs on cones placed 6 feet apart asking patrons to remain behind the cones until the staff member goes back inside the library.
  • Consider waiving fines, increase item limits. If you can, these are nice things to do for patrons. We decided that if people are over the $10 limit for fines, we use discretion whether to override and point them to paying online via their online account. We’ve gotten a lot of people paying off fines now! We also raised the checkout limit of DVDs and CD books from 5 to 10 and are automatically extending due dates for 21 days.

Statistics & Measuring Impact

Obviously, with physical materials at least, it’s going to be depressing when you compare your circulation stats with what you did last year. Here are some ways we’re measuring to better understand the impact of our new services:

  • We opted to do daily batch renewals using offline circulation, instead of simply extending dues dates. This helps us monitor how often people are performing self-renewals vs. actual curbside checkouts vs. manually extending due dates. This will help you determine whether it’s worth performing the service. In our case, our batch extensions accounted for approximately 50% of our checkouts. Even though book drops are open as of May 1, we will continue to do this for all outstanding, non-billed items without holds until “stay at home” orders are lifted.
  • Another impact on your stats will be the checking out of items that never end up being picked up. As I mentioned earlier, we check the items out once the hold pickup notice is run. Staff monitor all of the carts with the bags and those that have a pickup by date that is passed, and put those items back in circulation (we aren’t running clear holdshelf right now). So our stats are skewed upward, as the item was checked out, but then never picked up and checked back in.