Anne Arundel County libraries discover unexpected benefits to pandemic response

As it re-closes indoor access again, Anne Arundel County Public Library considers how the pandemic may have initiated some improvements The Anne Arundel County Public Library (AACPL) announced Tuesday, January 12, that it was once again closing it’s doors to physical access to buildings through January 31. But staff recognize that the experience of the pandemic has also spurred the institution to make positive changes that otherwise might not have happened. “If there were silver linings in all of this, there were two,” said Communications Director Christine Feldmann. “There was curbside (pickup) , Which is something we always talked about doing, but kind of needed that push to make it happen,.This as that push.” The other she said, was the rapid development of the library’s online programming. “We didn’t have any virtual programs before COVID,” she said. “Now we’ve created this network for all ages.” Although both services have been very popular with users, Feldmann said, the overall use of the library is down since before the pandemic, when patrons could access the interiors of the library buildings. The experience of the pandemic has been stressful for staff and patrons alike. There’s been a number of staff who have contracted the virus since March, the librarian confirmed. But on the bright side none of the infections have been found to have come from their work at the library. They have mostly caught the coronavirus from family interaction and travel, Feldmann said. She said quarantining sick staff members has been effective in inhibiting transmission. “We’re feeling like it’s working as well as it could work,” she said. “Is it a perfect situation?--No.” Feldmann explained the library makes its decisions on restricting service based on overall available data. But there are no specific metrics that offer a threshold to closing the library. They do consult with the county health department. The county’s public health officer, Dr, Nilesh Kalyanaraman, said Tuesday that the pandemic would likely be trending toward more cases for at least the next three weeks to a month. “It just wasn’t responsible to to have our customers and our staff have more interaction,” Feldmann said. But the positive impacts that have come out of the library coping with the pandemic have become apparent. The librarian believes the landscape of the Anne Arundel Public Library may have been permanently changed by them , even in a post-Covid environment, where the public is allowed free access to all library buildings once again. Both the online programming and curbside pickup service, she believes, will continue well into the future. The public response to both programs has been very positive. Curbside pickup patronage has been very robust, the librarian said. “People are really enjoying that,” she said. “It’s extremely popular.” The curbside service is available Monday – Thursday from 10 am to noon and 3-6 pm at all locations. Friday hours run from 10 am to noon and 2-4 pm. Sunday service is offered from 1-5 pm at the Busch Annapolis, Crofton, Discoveries, Glen Burnie, Maryland City at Russett, Odenton, Severn and Severna Park libraries. As part of its contactless service, the library also offers free wireless printing of up to 10 black and white pages, per day, through its website and SmartALEC app. Research assistance and book recommendations are also available via chat on any page of the library’s website, via phone and by email. And the library's extensive collection of virtual programs is offered on its Facebook page (facebook.com/aacpl) and on Zoom, including live kindergarten readiness storytimes, cooking demonstrations, book clubs and numerous how to workshops focused on using library resources. Customers should visit the library’s calendar of events for a complete list of virtual programs. Library staff continue to add more titles to the system’s extensive digital collection of eBooks, eAudiobooks, eMagazines and databases available on the library’s website. Customers are encouraged to visit AACPL’s Cloud Library collection for the quickest access to the newest eBooks for all ages. --Compiled from interview, press release

Anne Arundel County libraries discover unexpected benefits to pandemic response