More than 5,000 patrons used the service last month, which is four times higher than the number of curbside visitors between March 17-31, data shows. This is likely because many nearby cities were not offering curbside checkout at that time, Director of Library Services Susan Allison said.
“We were the only game in town for a while,” she said.
People from all walks of life—from moms and their children to senior citizens—took advantage of the curbside option after the facility was forced to shutter March 17, Allison said.
“It made me so happy to know that people still value reading.”
Allison’s librarians had just returned from a national conference where they attended a session on curbside checkout when stay-at-home orders were announced. Staff casually discussed offering the service, but no one could have predicted they would have to pivot so quickly.
“A week later, we closed and started curbside the very next day,” she said. “We really threw it together fast. It’s one of our quickest creations we’ve ever had.”
Over time, the system was tweaked to be safer and more efficient, Allison said. In the early days, library staff would bring items to cars in the parking lot. To help with social distancing, they eventually had cars queue up in front of the building. Membership cards were checked through the car window and patrons were given a bin number so they could retrieve their items from the cart once the library worker had returned inside, Allison said.
“Our patrons have learned more about what we expect and how to safely take care of it,” she said. “It’s worked out pretty well.”
Through the end of April, the library was averaging about 94 curbside pickup patrons per day, Allison said. This is quite a bit less than the number of visitors it saw prior to COVID-19, but it has been enough to keep Allison and her staff busy, she said.
“We haven’t had as many people in—we used to average 100 an hour—but I believe we’ve been pretty busy considering the circumstances,” she said.
The library also noticed a jump in the number of people calling to have their cards renewed or to request a new membership, Allison said. Digital services became increasingly popular, with the download of audiobooks and streaming movies increasing by one third between March 17-31, she added.
On May 5, the library reopened at 25% occupancy, which means 25 people can be inside at a time. Only the first floor is open, and all interactive amenities are closed, Allison said.
Certain library staff members are tasked with cleaning throughout the day, and all items are sanitized once they are checked back in, Allison said.
“The building is fantastically clean,” she said. “As soon as we closed in March, the city did a deep cleaning of all four floors, ... and things are staying really clean.”
Members have expressed mixed feelings about returning to the library; however, those that are coming inside are not staying long, Allison said. The library is open Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-2 p.m., and curbside runs Mon.-Sat. 2:30-5:30 p.m. Curbside service is not offered on Sunday.
As of now, only residents and business owners are allowed inside the library, Allison said. The facility will likely not reopen to nonresident members until Gov. Greg Abbott's third phase of reopening.
“We’re just going to gauge what the governor said with what our business is and the feelings we are getting from our patrons and play it by ear,” she said.
Nonresident cardholders, who Allison said make up a healthy number of members, are welcome to use the curbside service, which may continue in the long term, she said.
“I think some version of it is going to remain,” she said. “We may have to put a couple of permanent parking places out front.”
If the city decides to move forward with opening the library at 50% on May 18, the second floor would be open to another 25 visitors, Allison said. However, the public computers will remain closed.