The King County Library System (KCLS) announced in late June that it was resuming book-return services at 17 branch locations.
Then, beginning July 1, it would start offering “Curbside to Go” services for patrons.
Among those 17 branches, which comprise Eastside cities like Bellevue, Kirkland and Bothell, is the Mercer Island location. Per Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” reopening plan, libraries in Washington state are not allowed to resume traditional in-person services until Phase 3. (In Phase 3, though, large gatherings inside the library, or in-library events, will still be banned, as will meeting and study-room usage.)
“While we look forward to moving ahead, we remain vigilant to concerns about the coronavirus and will continue to adhere to the governor’s Safe Start Plan as we enter each new phase,” said KCLS executive director Lisa Rosenblum in a June statement.
Jacqueline Highfill, the operations manager at the KCLS Mercer Island branch who has been working directly with Curbside to Go, said that so far, things have been going smoothly at the site, though it’s been busier for staffers than it has been with patrons.
“We’ve never done this before,” Highfill said. “We really are trying to learn our process to make it as seamless and effortless as possible…as far as patrons coming in, it’s just gradually getting busier and busier as we go.”
Highfill said there was a week-long training period for staffers before curbside services became available. Planning discussions around prospective limited operations, however, had been going on long before that.
Between July 1-15, patrons who had ordered books before the state’s March closure are being catered to exclusively. Then, from July 15 onward, new holds can be placed.
Pick-up appointments can be made ahead of time either through the library’s designated Curbside to Go phone number or its mobile myLIBRO app. If a patron walks up to the library site without having made an appointment, they can chat with a library staffer through the glass door of the building to receive help.
Additionally, patrons beginning July 15 can order a “genre bag,” which includes five “surprise” books of either the mystery/crime or romance genre. Highfill said that this new opportunity was “definitely related” to the pandemic to further support giving “access to what we have in the library in a safe way.”
Guests will get an email notification when their holds are ready.
In-person and self-check-in returns won’t be permitted until the onset of Phase 3.
Highfill said the KCLS is cognizant of anxieties staffers and patrons alike might have about item-handling amid the pandemic, and are closely following health guidelines.
“[When] all the book returns come in, we quarantine those for three days, because that’s what the research has shown — that after 72 hours, the virus is no longer viable,” she said. “We really want to make sure that we’re following those protocols so that our staff are safe and the patrons as well. We just want everybody to stay safe.”
During a post-return “quarantine” period, an item will remain on a patron’s account for those three days.
Highfill stressed the diligence with which the Mercer Island location is implementing items like hand-sanitizer and face coverings.
“If we’re being cautious and following the CDC guidelines, and the guidelines set by the governor, that helps,” Highfill added.
According to the KCLS website, all due dates are now automatically extended until July 21. Any late fees accrued during the closure period (starting March 1) will be waived through Sept. 30.
Highfill pointed to online resources, like Ebooks and audiobooks available for download, if patrons are uncomfortable with curbside options. She also noted that phone lines are still open if a patron is having accessibility troubles.
“We really want to get the books back into peoples’ hands,” Highfill said.
Highfill said she’s looking forward to working with the community as services (and awareness of the new check-out option) ramp back up.
“We’re really excited to be able to serve the Mercer Island community,” she said. “It’s a wonderful community, and we look forward to being able to give them the resources that they’re looking for.”
For more information about return and Curbside to Go details, like operating hours, go to the KCLS website.