A center of community life: Pelham Public Library’s journey to offering limited in-person services

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Five months ago, the Pelham Public Library was filled families in the kids section, students working on homework, teens playing video games and adults reading. Patrons walked in and were greeted by the friendly librarians and smell of books.

But since March 13, the whole world has undergone a transformation. Libraries were shut down and confined to online services.

The Pelham library turned to video conferencing to host their programs. Story time is being held on Facebook Live and book clubs are hosted over Zoom. Services like Hoopla, OverDrive and Kanopy were enlisted to offer movies, ebooks and music using a library card. Turning a page is now swiping your finger across your device.

“We don’t have any plans to host any programs in the library,” said Pelham librarian Augusta Turner. “We have a tiny space. I don’t see us having in-person programs.”

On June 10, the library announced it would offer curbside pickup services. Card-holders can use the online library catalog to place holds on books. Then when the book comes in, they can schedule a pickup time. The service has worked well since it entails minimal contact.

“It’s like McDonald’s,” said Turner. “You just drive through, call and get your books. People seem to really appreciate it.”

The library officially reopened for certain in-person services as of July 27. Many changes have been made to the interior to ensure the safety of patrons and staff: The seating has been taken out, there is no computer use and only one family at a time is allowed in the children’s area.

There is also a limit on the number of people inside, and masks are required. So far, patrons have had no problems following the guidelines, and “people seem really happy,” Turner said.

Returned books are placed in quarantine for three to five days and cleaned. The library isn’t as quiet as before because the sneeze shields at the front desk block sound, requiring louder speaking voices. As far as the future goes, the Pelham library will be doing a hybrid of virtual programming and in-person book pickup.

“I think we will have a whole new audience of people who were forced to try a lot of our virtual resources, and they were pleased with it,” Turner said. “I think it’s going to actually increase our patronage. The library has done a really good job at ensuring everyone’s safety, and our patrons have done an amazing job following the guidelines.”