All four Outer Cape libraries began curbside services last week, although Provincetown library staff are calling it “street-side,” because they don’t have a curb.
Directors Amy Raff of the Provincetown Public Library, Tricia Ford of the Truro Public Library, Jennifer Wertkin of the Wellfleet Public Library, and Debra DeJonker-Berry of the Eastham Public Library have been meeting weekly via Zoom to coordinate their curbside services. “We’re acting in concert with each other,” Ford says, “that way one library isn’t overwhelmed.” They released a video with instructions on the Wellfleet Public Library YouTube channel on June 1.
Here’s how it works: Patrons may order materials through clamsnet.org, email, or phone and arrange a time for a pickup. Unfortunately, delivery between libraries, which is a statewide service, hasn’t started back up yet, so if you want a volume unique to the Wellfleet library, you’ll have to make the trek there to get it.
Materials are quarantined for 72 hours between patrons and sanitized. For pickup, in Provincetown, Wellfleet, and Eastham, they are placed in labeled bags and left for masked patrons to pick up from a table, bin, or book truck.
Truro, on the other hand, is doing curbside delivery straight to your car. Ford says that Truro is also splitting its six employees into two groups that work on alternate days, so not all staff have to self-isolate in the case of an outbreak.
The 72-hour quarantine for books is a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Mass. Library Association. “Most reports say that the virus will last on paper for 24 hours,” Raff says, “but pretty much everything in the library is covered in plastic.” Studies suggest that Covid-19 can survive on plastic for up to 72 hours.
While bibliophiles are unable to peruse the shelves in person, all libraries are offering a “reader’s advisory,” which allows patrons to call and ask for recommendations. “I think in this culture of Covid, we’re missing browsing,” Wertkin says, “We don’t have the luxury of lingering anywhere, even at the grocery store.” The Provincetown library is also doing a reader’s advisory blog series.
Wertkin says that on the first day of curbside, over 50 people used the service at the Wellfleet library. The other libraries reported smaller but promising numbers. While all of the libraries have seen an uptick in their digital services, including e-books, it seems that people are missing the tangible quality of print books.
What are they reading? According to the librarians, a little bit of everything. Cookbooks, best-sellers from back in March, biographies, mysteries. They are also checking out CDs, DVDs, and audiobooks.
Libraries were permitted to open for curbside services as part of phase one of Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening plan. Though browsing inside the library, with restrictions, is allowed in phase two (begun on Monday), it is unlikely that the libraries will reopen this summer.
“The nature of a library is touching everything,” Wertkin says. Disinfection would be a monumental task.
And because they are in seasonal communities, Cape libraries have unique conditions. In the summer, the Provincetown library, for instance, would normally have 650 visitors per day. DeJonker-Berry of the Eastham library says, “With populations changing on a weekly basis, and the many uncertainties surrounding us, erring on the side of caution is not erring at all, because the risk is too high.”
Though curbside services may satisfy a book fix, the libraries themselves are prized destinations on the Outer Cape that are missed by many. Raff says the library is “the place you can go that is not home and not work.”
That said, all four libraries are doing a virtual summer reading program, as well as other online events. And DeJonker-Berry, for one, hopes some virtual substitutes might survive the pandemic. “There’s lemonade here,” she says. “One of the things that is lemonade is that the skills we’re learning in terms of providing virtual programming are going to allow us to reach people who, for whatever reason, could not come out physically to library programs.”