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Some area libraries offer no-touch lending while others wait for disease transmission study

  • Rindge's Ingalls Memorial Library Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Rindge's Ingalls Memorial Library Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Jaffrey Public Library Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/20/2020 10:25:58 AM

The revision of the state’s Stay-At-Home order has prompted some regional libraries to resume curbside service, while others are holding out for more information. Most libraries have been offering virtual services exclusively since March.

Ingalls Memorial Library in Rindge began lending again on May 6. Patrons can call or place holds in the library system online and schedule an appointment to pick up their materials outside the building. It is the second step in the library’s phased reopening program Director Donna Straitiff said. The first step was to get staff back in the building, she said, and the Stay-At-Home 2.0 guidance was the ease-up they were waiting for. Staff met to discuss their comfort levels on returning to work in the library.

“We’re all pretty much in the same spot that we felt we were totally safe to come back,” she said, and decided it was time to start up curbside delivery. They quarantine returned materials for seven days.

The first week of services saw “quite a lot of checkouts,” Straitiff said, although older patrons haven’t returned and the contingent of residents without internet might not know they resumed some services, she said. The next phase in the reopening plan will involve opening the library to patrons by appointment, but that awaits a total lift on the Stay-At-Home order, Straitiff said. The Gay Kimball Library of Troy began allowing patrons inside by appointment on Monday.

The Hancock Library also began lending and accepting returns on May 11, director Amy Markus said. She initially had concerns about patrons overwhelming the library’s small book drop, but the initial days went smoothly, she said. Patrons drop off and pick up materials in the library’s foyer, and returned material is quarantined for three days in the meeting room, with items arranged by date to avoid mix-ups. Staff wear masks and gloves while handling materials, and wipe them with disinfectant before reshelving, Markus said. E-books, audiobooks and movies continue to be available for streaming through the library’s website, she said.

“Different libraries have different situations,” Markus said. Libraries serving small communities like Troy and Marlborough  have been operating with no-contact lending protocol for weeks, and Fitzwilliam never once stopped lending. Hancock’s relatively small patronage and the building’s closed-off foyer made Markus feel comfortable resuming some services. All the libraries in the state are sharing their plans with one another, she said, and each have different considerations based on their size and patronage.

Antrim’s James A. Tuttle Library director Cindy Jewett acknowledged the widespread practices of wiping down materials and quarantining them for at least 72 hours. “There’s still that little bit of an unknown,” she said. “I want to make sure it’s safe.” Jewett is waiting on the results of an ongoing study on COVID-19 transmission via library materials, conducted by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and research organizations OCLC and Battelle. They anticipate delivering guidance for public libraries, possibly before June, she said. The Jaffrey Public Library and Greenfield’s Stephenson Memorial Library are also waiting for the results of the study before offering checkouts of any kind.

Jewett serves on the state’s Reopening New Hampshire Libraries task force, one of 18 library professionals from throughout the state. They’re developing guidelines for reopening, and questions that every town’s library trustees should ask themselves about the realities of their own library and community. Assistant State Librarian Lori Fisher said that libraries serving larger communities might have to make considerations for homeless populations and others who typically rely on their buildings, such as groups that usually clamor for limited meeting room space. The task force was formed in early April and will be releasing their recommendations later this week, Fisher said, available at http://nhlibrarians.org/covid-19-resources/.

Pandemic or no, there’s no apparent change to the kinds of material people are requesting, Straitiff said, although the state’s interlibrary loan services remain suspended. “Most of the people coming back are happy to get some novels in their hands. Kid’s books are being used a lot,” she said, with children home from school.  Usage of genealogy programs Ancestry and HeritageQuest have gone up, Jewett said, and she’s fielded lots of calls on how to access and use the virtual services the library has always had. Circulation of hoopla, a digital media service offering comic books, films, books, and audiobooks online tripled last month, she said.

The Jaffrey Public Library conducted no-touch return hours last week to take back in library materials, but will not resume curbside service until they receive more information and the Stay At Home order is lifted, staff wrote in a statement. They list a detailed reopening protocol on their website. The library has extended all due dates for physical items to June 8. Their website offers digital reading material as well as arts and science programs, storytime via Zoom, and even yoga. Staff conduct tech help sessions and tutorials and regularly contact patrons via phone and email.  As part of its STEAM Learning grant with Millipore Sigma, the library is developing STEAM kits for checkout this summer, including microscopes, and field scientist bags, funded by the Children’s Literacy Foundation, to encourage students to learn outside and off-screen.

The Peterborough Town Library has almost completely moved their collection of 39,000 items to the Monadnock Plaza location for use during the ongoing building renovations. They’re organizing so they can accept returns next, anticipating being able to receive them the week of May 26. The library is not taking book dropoffs or donations right now, and expect to begin offering curbside service by early June.

“We really miss interacting with people,” Jewett said, and that it’s lonely to come into the library with nobody around.  “We have so many kids who come and read, like, 50 books a week,” she said. “We miss that.”


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