Local libraries have found ways to bring people together while social distancing keeps them apart.
On March 17 the American Library Association recommended that libraries close to slow the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, a call to which libraries in Calhoun County responded. The Jacksonville Public Library announced on its Facebook page last week that it had closed, while the Houston Cole Library at Jacksonville State University remains open only to students and faculty (though it’s closed this week for spring break).
The Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County and the Oxford Public Library, however, have taken cues from recent changes in the restaurant industry, and now offer curbside delivery options for folks checking out books, movies and games, while putting staff members on camera for craft sessions, story readings and book discussions posted to social media.
Directors of both libraries said that library services are too important to close off from the community.
“It’s not just the books and materials that people need,” said Teresa Kiser, director of the Anniston library. “They need to be able to fax and print off things. We’ve had people sending in things to be printed for their taxes and resumes for jobs. We’re trying to offer the services people need.”
According to Kiser, library members can make pickup requests at publiclibrary.cc/pickup, or send a text message to 256-294-4263 or call 256-237-8501 and choose option 2 to speak with staff. Those same phone options will also get visitors to the right people for printing and scanning documents or sending faxes. Email options include firstname.lastname@example.org for checkout, or email@example.com for document services.
When picking up materials or using services, visitors can pull up to the back curb just beside the building in the parking lot, and call, text or honk their car horn for staff to come to the curb and help. Kiser said returned materials are sprayed with a bleach solution to make sure they’re sanitized.
“We can keep doing this as long as we need to,” Kiser said. “We’re actually enjoying it, but we have an amazing staff who has stepped up to the plate.”
The Oxford Public Library has also taken to curbside offerings — available by calling 256-831-1750, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting oxfordpl.org, the library website. The library also has a wireless internet cafe open to the public at the side entrance, with tables spaced 6 feet apart and someone to wipe them down in between uses.
According to director Amy Henderson, the library is also waiving late fees, even those racked up prior to the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“If somebody has a library fee, those are being overridden,” Henderson said. “We’re not going to block them from using their library cards.
“This is when they need us the most,” Henderson reasoned.
She also pointed out a plethora of free resources for children at oxfordpl.org/schoolsout, with links to paid services made free during the pandemic from Scholastic and Capstone Interactive that let kids continue learning out of school, along with free entertainment like daily drawing sessions with children’s author Mo Willems through the Kennedy Center and Facebook Live sessions from the Cincinnati Zoo.
Both libraries are filming their own content, too, like storytime sessions filmed by staff.
Sarrah Peters, head of youth services at the Anniston library, is one of the librarians to pop up on social media with a book in hand and a green screen transporting her to far-off places. The addition of online content has helped the staff realize a few ideas, like adding a sign language interpreter to a recent story reading.
Peters, who is a few months from graduating with a master’s degree in library science from the University of Alabama, said the experience has been unusual, but fun.
“They didn’t really prepare us for this; it’s not part of the curriculum,” Peters joked. She takes online courses at the university, she said, working at a distance is “not completely removed from the things that we did.”