Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Libraries Adapt to Serving People Remotely

Curbside Pick up
Libraries such as this location in Chesterfield and a few in Henrico County are offering curbside pick up of books placed on hold (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)


HOST: You’re listening to 88.9 VPM News. I’m Catherine Komp and I’m here today with reporter Ian Stewart who’s been looking into how local libraries are serving the community during the coronavirus pandemic. Hey Ian.

STEWART: Hey Catherine.

HOST: Ian, I understand libraries have come up with some creative ways to engage their patrons since they closed their doors in March. Tell me what you found.

STEWART: That’s right Catherine. I spoke with three librarians, representing Richmond, Chesterfield and Henrico. And one thing they all have in common is that they wanted their members to know, that despite being closed, the libraries are still a place people can access books and educational materials and get help.

HOST: And, what kind of help are you talking about? 

STEWART: Well, in terms of the pandemic, both Richmond and Chesterfield offer links to sites such as the Center for Disease Control and where to get mental health questions answered in the county. For help in navigating the library, both Richmond and Chesterfield have created a live chat function on their websites. I spoke with Kara Rothman, the assistant director of the Henrico Library, about what they’re doing.

Rothman: “Our library staff are answering the phones from home. So we’re answering during our normal business hours, so people can contact us by phone. We also have our “Ask HCPL” service so people can text or email and we get back them very quickly.” 

HOST: Chesterfield is still lending out books, how does that work?

STEWART: That’s right. Even though the library closed back in March, they still allow people to put books on hold and then pick them up. They’re doing curbside pick up, sort of like what restaurants are doing. Readers log into the library's main website, find their book and put it on hold. Then, staff will pull it and send an email saying it’s ready for pick up. If the book isn’t at your local library, it’ll be delivered to your closest one. Then, all you do is drive up, call the library and they bring the book out.

HOST: And how does that happen with social distancing?

STEWART: Good question. Once you call, a librarian will bring the book out, and place it on a table, then go back inside. Then you just have to get out of your car and grab the book. 

HOST: Has it been a popular service? 

STEWART: Yes, I spoke with Jen Shepley from the Chesterfield Library. She said the numbers are really high at some of their libraries.

Shepley: “The busier branches can easily see 40 to 60 folks come through a day. And that’s more on our kind of average day. Other times, they’re seeing 100 cars come through.”

STEWART: Richmond hopes to do curbside pick up once restrictions on businesses ease up. And Henrico is offering contactless pick up at two of their libraries.  Also, in the coming weeks, Chesterfield will start accepting all the books that people have been holding on too--they had originally set a July 1st timeline for accepting these books. And Shepley told me that they are planning to possibly open a few branches starting in early June. 

HOST: Have the libraries seen a decline in users since they closed Ian?

STEWART: Just the opposite Catherine. All three librarians I spoke to said all their services have seen an increase. Shepley of the Chesterfield Library says their number of daily users of their E-Book system called Overdrive has doubled over last year and that average daily check-outs has risen almost 40% comparatively. And Natalie Draper from Richmond’s library told me that in the last month, they had 800 people sign up for electronic library cards, compared to just over 200 at the same time last year. 

HOST: Wow, that’s a big increase. I understand that the libraries are also offering other streaming content, especially for kids, tell us about that. 

STEWART: Right. Before they closed, all the libraries held live, story readings for kids and did in-person events, like STEM or Lego classes. Once their doors shuttered, they quickly moved this service to Facebook or YouTube. And all of them tried to keep the same schedule as before to provide continuity for children. Here’s Chesterfield’s Jen Shepley again.

Shepley: “You know, it retains a little bit of normalcy for the kids who’d attend story time. You know that timing still works in their minds. And then they are still seeing their regular story-time librarian, which allows them keep that connection as well, too.”

STEWART: I should add that these services aren’t strictly for kids, either. All of these libraries have book discussions for teens and adults and in the case of Chesterfield, yoga. And the Richmond Public Library also started offering access to a website called CreativeBug that has tutorials on how to make arts and crafts.

HOST: Lastly Ian, what’s up with fines, late fees?

STEWART: All the libraries in the region suspended any late fees and fines--in fact, Richmond Public Libraries waived their fines prior to the start of the coronavirus. 

HOST: Thank you Ian Stewart for all the information. 

STEWART: You’re welcome. 

Visit the Chesterfield Public Library.

Visit the Richmond Public Library.

Visit the Henrico Public Library.




Ian M. Stewart previously was the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
Related Stories