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The Pandemic and My Local Library

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The Pandemic and My Local Library

Like many people this year, I am having to cut back on spending. This means buying fewer books and relying more on my public library. But my library isn’t the same comfortable place it used to be.

Libraries around the world are having to decide how to operate (or not) during a pandemic. Here’s what has been happening at my library in Rockville, Maryland.

When the pandemic hit the United States in earnest, my local public library closed. People were not permitted to enter the building, borrow materials, or return materials. 

As time passed, some services resumed, though the building remains closed. On July 6, the library instituted a system for lending books safely. 

People who wish to check out a book can place a hold online. Books are quarantined for 48 hours after being returned, to keep librarians and patrons safe.

(There’s something comical about quarantining a book. The book might be sick! Has the book been wearing a mask?)

Joking aside, all librarians wear masks and practice social distancing.

The person who placed the hold receives an email when the book emerges from quarantine. Then the patron can go online to select a pickup date and time. A librarian places the book in the lobby of the library prior to that date and time.

No electronic checkout is required. The patron locates the book, which is labeled with their name, and takes it. Honor system. Patrons can return books through the slot on the side of the building.

I followed this process with success and ease. I am grateful that my local library is back to lending books. And bonus—the library is not charging fines, and patrons are invited to take their time in returning books.

My only trouble arose when I wanted to consult a reference book. When I called, the librarian explained that I was not permitted to access the book. She offered to read me a page or two; but I wanted to access more than that.

With regret, I dug out the old credit card.

Liza Achilles is a writer and Silent Book Club organizer in Rockville, Maryland. She blogs about seeking wisdom through books and elsewhere at lizaachilles.com.