As the USA slowly reopens in the wake of COVID-19, public libraries are finally on the agenda to accept patrons, even if it has to be at partial-occupancy.
Can I just emphasize that word…”FINALLY”? I never understood why people could order pizza delivery and items from Amazon, but public libraries could not deliver library books to patrons. Sure, I’ve heard stories of individual libraries making this happen, but I’ve seen nothing about it wide-scale. Plenty of students live in homes where there are no books. With all this time at home, bored, how many young people would have loved to read if they were able? How many would have become readers because of this crisis? How many readers did we lose because they had no access to quality books?
And now that I think about it…why couldn’t we offer library delivery services, even after our public libraries reopen fully? Is it really so expensive to hire a courier service to bring books to people who are unable to get to the library? To look for volunteers to deliver, sort of like Meals-on-Wheels? To send books through the mail, like Netflix used to do? To bring back bookmobiles for low-income areas?
BUT WE HAVE OVERDRIVE ALREADY…
I love OverDrive and use it every day. But OverDrive is not available to students who do not have internet. Or a device to read on. Not every public library can afford OverDrive, and even if they can, they may not be able to afford to buy all the titles their patrons want and need.
Libraries have the power to help narrow the gap between rich and poor, but digital services aren’t going to do that job. Digital access favors people who can afford it. Children and teens who cannot walk to their public library (which is most of them) need a way to get library books in the summer, when their school libraries are closed.
BUT LIBRARY DELIVERY SERVICES ARE EXPENSIVE
Are they really? Amazon delivery is free. Pizza delivery is free. Sure, the delivery costs are added to the purchase price, but it couldn’t be that expensive. I can buy a large pizza, delivered, for about $12. Delivery is not that expensive, especially since libraries would be keeping it inside the same county or area.
Let’s say library delivery services are cost-prohibitive. Maybe they are. You have to insure drivers and all that (though I would argue that I’ve driven plenty of places for my library job, including to other cities for PD, and I never received mileage or insurance reimbursement).
If this is an issue, libraries might look for volunteer drivers. These would be people with their own cars, their own insurance, who voluntarily use their own gas mileage. How does Meals-on-Wheels do it?
And if that won’t work, why can’t we exchange library books by mail? Netflix used to do it before they became a streaming-only service. Include a return envelope with the library books to make it easy for patrons to return the books without needing a car.
BRING BACK THE BOOKMOBILE
How cool are bookmobiles? It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to start a bookmobile in a foreign country. It seems I’m living in Mexico now, so maybe I can do something like that here one day.
We wouldn’t need a fancy RV to run a bookmobile. All it would take is a car or truck to carry some folding tables, a few signs, a laptop, a wifi hotspot, a barcode scanner, and 20-30 boxes of books. Set up on a street corner on certain days of the week and check out those library books. Return the next week with new titles and to collect returned books.
YES, THERE ARE OBSTACLES
Sure, there are going to be some obstacles to starting library delivery services. There are always Negative Nancys who will try to shout something down before it even starts. There could be legal issues with car insurance and mileage reimbursement. There may be personnel issues, too.
But librarians are innovators! Can we really not figure this out? Surely individual libraries across the USA have made this work already. What do they do?
WHO IS NOT BEING SERVED?
We all know–or we should anyway–that as great as our public library services might be, there are still patrons in our jurisdictions that are not being served. People who do not have reliable transportation. People who do not have computers, or those who may not have internet. People who have illnesses and conditions that make it difficult for them to leave their home. Children and teens who are home alone, bored, every day in the summer and on school breaks.
Let’s think outside the box a bit and figure out ways to help bring the books to the people.