A step toward normal, as libraries resume book loans

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After an approximate two-month hiatus caused by the coronavirus crisis, two local libraries resumed loaning physical books and other items to patrons this week, though the institutions' facilities will remain closed to the public for now.

The Bennington Free Library, located at 101 Silver St., and the John G. McCullough Free Library, located at 2 Main St. in the village of North Bennington, this week began offering items for pickup on specified days.

As of May 18, the Bennington Free Library is fielding orders by email (circ@bfli.org) and phone (802-442-9051). Library staff collect and bag the requested items, then contact patrons to arrange particular pickup times, which will be scheduled on Monday, Wednesday or Friday between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

The volume of requests already has been substantial, according to Lynne Fonteneau McCann, the library's director. "Everyone's sick of looking at everything online," she said, adding that many readers like to hold books in their hands.

Staff members are alternating the days they work at the library, said McCann. On Tuesday, when she visited the site, there were "easily two dozen, good-size bags of books in the lobby" awaiting pickup that had been assembled by one employee the previous day.

To collect their loaned items, patrons enter the library near the access ramp and find their packages marked with their first names and last initials on bookshelves. They then exit the building through a different door closer to Union Street.

Staff are "working hard when they come" to the library, but patrons shouldn't expect same-day pickup, McCann said. Requests placed on Monday, for instance, can be expected to be fulfilled for Wednesday.

The library will not impose fines on overdue items for the immediate future, McCann said.

The organization has continued to provide virtual programming and resources through its Facebook page, and added Hoopla, a free streaming service, to its suite of offerings in April.

Gov. Phil Scott on April 24 authorized libraries to offer curbside pickup in accordance with guidance from the Vermont Department of Libraries.

A recent survey conducted by the state agency found that 51 libraries were offering curbside pickup for patrons, with more than two dozen others planning to offer it by the end of this month. Survey respondents indicated that the median number of pickups in a given week was 15.

Both the Bennington Free Library and its North Bennington counterpart closed their buildings to the public on March 17.

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"It's been weird," said Jennie Rozycki, director of the McCullough Free Library. Libraries typically "come to the forefront" amid calamities, serving as safe places to warm up, recharge devices and access Wi-Fi, she explained, but the pandemic has prevented that sort of physical convening.

Rozycki's colleagues at the library have participated in continuing education programs during the closure, she said. "We've used this time to strengthen our organization from the inside."

Patrons' usage of e-books and digital audiobooks has surged amid the shutdown, Rozycki said. The library's free Wi-Fi has remained available outside the facility, with patrons accessing the service from parked cars along West Street, in the library's parking lot or at an outdoor picnic table.

McCullough members also continue to have access to LinkedIn's online course service, Lynda.com.

The North Bennington library has created an online form for patrons to submit loan requests for books, DVDs and audiobooks, which is accessible through its website, mcculloughlibrary.org. Patrons can also submit requests by emailing mcculloughlibraryclerk@gmail.com or by calling 802-447-7121.

Pickup days at McCullough are Wednesdays and Fridays, with time slots dependent on patrons' last names. Requests are limited to 10 books, 3 audiobooks and 5 DVDs per person. Bags are retrieved at the library's rear entrance.

Rozycki estimated that staff prepared 40 to 45 bags for pickup on Wednesday, the library's first day of offering the service.

"I'm so glad that people will have access to what we have here," she said.

As a precaution, the directors said, both libraries will be "quarantining" returned items for 10 days before making them available again to other patrons.

McCann said she continues to watch the governor's periodic press briefings. "As soon as he lets us know it's safe to open 100 percent then we will initiate that," she said.

"Librarians are a dedicated lot," McCann said. "We're doing as much as we can with what we have to work with."

Contact Luke Nathan at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com.


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