books on bookshelf

The pandemic has greatly affected the ways we go about our daily business, most notably by turning large crowded areas into places to catch COVID-19 and thus limiting our interaction with the outside world and each other. This caused problems for various institutions and businesses, including libraries. This kind of space is harder to keep clean and safe, so, many libraries are searching for ways to get their books into patron’s hands without putting anyone at risk. Ebooks and seminars are being favored for their easy accessibility but when it comes to physical books, home delivery and curbside pickup are becoming rapidly adopted tactics.

For Wisconsin’s Altoona Public Library, home delivery, a service they already offer, is risky for both the employees and the elder people in assisted living to whom they usually deliver. The two solutions that are being considered, not only in Altoona’s public library but in libraries across the nation, are curbside pick up and books by mail systems. Curbside pick up allows for patrons to request books and a pick up time and the librarians can leave them at the curb for pick up without any sort of in-person contact. Patrons who cannot drive unfortunately can’t make use of this system, but rather can utilize the books by mail system that sends the books in the post to their residence. Both of these systems existed before the pandemic, but the closure of the buildings has put these programs into the spotlight.

Unfortunately, these systems do have some drawbacks, such as very long holds being placed for many books. It would be reasonable to assume that many are frustrated that they cannot get a hold of the things that they want to read simply because someone else got it delivered to their home and it might take a while for it to be back in circulation. The lengthy wait times affect the possible enjoyment that one might get out of reading if someone has to settle for second best.

While it is fairly reasonable, the library and the consumers have to spend more money in order for mail delivery books to get where they need to be. Postage is an expense, and while it might not matter too much to someone who got 1 or 2 books, the library may have to mail out hundreds to thousands. This also doesn’t take into account the possibility that the books may be damaged during transport. But while each solution has its drawbacks, it is the best option that is currently available that limits the number of people present in the library and provides services for people who can’t go out. This method would work fairly well in our community as there are a number of libraries around the valley.

Another possible solution could be to invest more in digital and audio copies of books. This allows for more people to read the same book at the same time (cutting down wait times), in a format that is suitable to them. But older folk and those who simply prefer to read a physical book would still require the other two services provided. Overall, the more options that libraries have, the more people they can reach without spreading their books too thin.

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