COOLIDGE — The main lobby of the Coolidge Public Library is unusually quiet for an afternoon at the beginning of summer.
But these days, no one browses the shelves and a meager handful of people trickle in to use the computers. The library’s recently redesigned playroom is bare, and the main room the library uses to host programing — usually abuzz with activities designed for youngsters and teens in the summer months— is strangely empty.
“Everything is slow,” Library Manager Joyce Baker said. “Right now I think that people know that they just should not be out and about congregating in places.”
The library reopened on June 1 with a number of restrictions in place designed to protect both staff and patrons after nearly 12 weeks of closure to the public caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The effort has included removing some furniture from the front lobby and playroom and barring access to periodicals and newspapers, normally available for reading while spending some time on the premises, to discourage those who do come in from lingering too long.
The changes have also led to the rollout of ideas like contactless pick-up.
Patrons can schedule a date and time for contact-free pickup of materials on loan by calling the library or placing a hold online.
Curbside pickup significantly reduces the amount of interaction between library users and staff. Requested materials are delivered to vehicles that pull up to the designated markers along Central Avenue. Members of the public simply show their library card behind their window, and all checked out items are dropped off in the trunk of their car.
The service is one of the ways the library is hoping curb the spread of COVID-19 while providing users access to some of the library’s offerings. But though minimizing the in-person interactions between library staff a necessity for now, staff members are still committed to providing a friendly and helpful experience to patrons.
For Library Assistant Leticia Hamilton, that means going the extra mile to meet the needs of users— including those that may need to take extra precautions during this time.
“If (you’re) very concerned about coming in, call us,” she said. “We take care of everything for you.”
Though the curbside service has attracted some users, it’s still a long ways off from restoring the library’s pre-COVID foot traffic.
Since the beginning of June, Hamilton estimates that the library has fulfilled approximately 50 pick ups.
But books and DVDs aren’t the only things library users can obtain through contactless pickup. Some traditional summer programming, like the distribution of back-to-school supplies and the summer reading program, are still offered in ways that have been modified for the pandemic.
The back-to-school supplies program enables the families of school-aged children to obtain two new school supplies every two weeks ahead of the school year. The program will run through July 11.
The back-to-school distribution is sponsored by the Friends of the Library, who traditionally seek monetary donations of $1,500 from local businesses for the supplies. In light of the pandemic, this year the Friends chose to fund the program directly from the organization’s savings.
“They have invested in the community because they believe that the school supplies are really going to be needed this year,” Baker said.
To keep children busy during the summer, the library is also offering grab-and-go kits that feature coloring pages and other interactive activities.
Summer reading logs can also be returned to the library through the contactless pickup system simply by putting the logs in the trunk before going to pickup new items.
Once they collect the filled logs, librarians will provide participants with their next set of reading logs and prizes as part of the items dropped off in the contactless pickup system.
But for those who would prefer to conduct their business at the library in-person, members of the public also have the option to set up a 30 minute appointment to browse collections or use the computer for up to an hour.
Like curbside, the service has only attracted the attention of a few patrons here and there.
With foot traffic greatly reduced at the library, the role the library plays in the community has been somewhat transformed by the pandemic.
Using its social media presence, the library has become a virtual hub for information, Baker said.
“Our twitter feed is much more active than it would normally be, our Facebook feed is much more active, and we’re much more involved in sharing important information,” she said. “I feel like its much more important for us to be a dispenser of reliable community information right now.”
The information is not limited to activities at the library, but also extends to updates put out by the Pinal County Health Department, available local job opportunities and other important updates.
Throughout the pandemic, the library has also leveraged social media to provide virtual programming. The transition began with the move to Facebook live events for popular children’s programs like Story Time, but is now being expanded to include programs put on in partnership with the Arizona Humanities, like Arizona Speaks, and Frank Talks.
Programs like the AZ Humanities’ upcoming talk on immigration, titled “Coming Home to a Place Never Been Before,” will be hosted by the library on Zoom.
The library is also incorporating Zoom to keep community members engaged through a Virtual Book Club. Staff members select a theme for the month, and encourage the participating members to read a title that fits the theme. On a designated day, all participants then sign on to Zoom to enjoy a virtual chat about their readings with other members and library staff.
For July, the theme for the book club is crime. The library will host the online chat for the club at 4:30 p.m. on July 28.