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Off the Shelf: Southwest Public Libraries keeping pace with plot twists in 2020 story

MARK SHAW
Mark Shaw

If 2020 were a book, there have already been enough plot twists to keep us up all night.

None of us could have predicted the challenges of recent months or imagined the many ways in which we would quickly innovate and adapt.

We at SPL could not have predicted that over the past five months, we would completely restructure our service model, launch virtual programming, wrap up our first virtual Summer Reading Challenge, and pass a critical renewal levy almost completely by mail. Each challenge has been a new opportunity to learn and adapt, and we're confident we can continue facing challenges with the support of our patrons and dedication of our staff.

Curious what a behind-the-scenes day of no-contact services at SPL looks like? Some days, it is busier than ever. Days are filled with pulling and processing hold requests, preparing items for interlibrary delivery, quarantining returns, shelving post-quarantine materials, scheduling pickups, processing new items, assisting with copy and print services, answering reference questions, preparing new programming, mailing outreach items and more.

With the library's current no-contact pickup service, patrons are able to reserve items for pickup by appointment. Each day, staff members run a new list of hold requests, pulling titles from SPL's collection and preparing them for either pickup or interlibrary delivery. The staff also processes dozens of bins delivered daily from other libraries filled with materials being returned to SPL or materials to fill hold requests.

Items for that day's scheduled pickups will be checked out, bagged, labeled and sorted for their appropriate time slots. Each location offers up to 100 pickup appointments per day, with slots often filling up quickly. A masked staff member is always available at no-contact pickup points for pickup, print, copy, scan or fax assistance.

Every day, staff members follow a careful process for handling returns. All returned materials are quarantined for a minimum of 96 hours before being checked in and made available to other patrons. This period conforms with research conducted by Battelle on the longevity of the COVID-19 coronavirus on common library materials. Meeting rooms have been commandeered as quarantine rooms, and each day staff will check the quarantine status of returned materials and begin checking in and shelving the materials that have passed the required time.

Phone lines stay busy with incoming calls to schedule pickup appointments, request materials or ask reference questions. Youth Services and Adult Services staff members brainstorm new programming ideas, perhaps film a storytime or program, or put together take-and-make craft and activity kits.

Staff members in the Technology Services department process new titles and add them to the collection.

The Outreach department, which in normal times conducts school and nursing home visits and homebound deliveries, also has adapted and launched a well-received delivery-by-mail system for those who are homebound and unable to visit the library.

Even further behind the scenes, though no less important, facilities, business office and IT staff work to ensure all these operations can run smoothly and safely. Through it all, library administrators continue to monitor health alerts and developments closely with the objective to reopen buildings as soon as it is safely possible.

The story is not over, but we are confident that no matter the plot twists, we will continue to find ways to serve. SPL is currently offering no-contact services Monday through Saturday. Buildings remain closed at this time. Visit swpl.org for more information.

Mark Shaw is the director of Southwest Public Libraries.