When you come up to pick up a curbside pick-up order, or join us for a virtual program, you only get the briefest of glimpses of what is going on behind the library building’s doors. Have you wondered what library staff are doing in the building to keep things running? If so, here’s a peek at what each of us are doing on a daily basis:
Each morning, our book drop is emptied and newly returned items are placed on a table in the library’s Community Room. In accordance with recommended practices, we quarantine returned items for three days prior to checking them in to be borrowed by other users. We have four tables set up in the Community Room for our returns, each with a movable sign that indicates how long the items on each table have been set aside. When newly returned items are placed on a table, the items from one of the other tables are checked in and sorted. Returned items that belong to other libraries will generate transit slips, and will be set aside to be packed up for shipment back to the owning library, or to a user at another library within our system. Items that belong to us will need to be properly shelved by library staff so they can be easily retrieved for the next user.
First thing in the morning, we print out a paging list generated from our circulation system. This is a list of all the items that have been requested either by our own users, or by users at other libraries. This list is often many pages long containing anywhere from 25 to 150 items per day. Once staff have retrieved the items on the list, each one is scanned in, generating either a hold pick-up notice (for local users) or a transit slip (for users at other libraries.) Once hold pick-up notices are generated, we send email hold pick-up notifications to our users with email addresses, and make phone calls to those who don’t, letting them know that their items are available for pick-up.
Items that are going to other libraries are sorted by library and packed up in canvas bags, one per library. The bags are then loaded into large plastic totes to be picked up by our contracted delivery service. We have anywhere from 4 to 12 outgoing totes each day.
Back in August, we launched our Library to Go book bundle service. Since then, we’ve filled nearly 600 book bundle requests, or about 20 – 30 each week. Library users fill out a detailed online form about what types of books or other materials they are interested in. Based on those interests, the form submissions are sent via email to the most appropriate librarian to help fulfill the request. For example, requests for science fiction, contemporary, and historical fiction go to Julia; requests for children’s materials go to Megan; requests for nonfiction go to Andy; requests for teen materials to Alyssa; and requests for mysteries and suspense go to Rachel. We also consult with each other and collaborate on these requests, which are a lot of fun for all of us to fulfill. Once we’ve selected items for a bundle, we put them on hold and notify the requester that they are ready to go.
We get lots of phone calls, every day, all day long! Library users call us to find a particular item, for help placing items on hold, to make hold pick-up appointments, to find specific information, to resolve issues with their accounts, for recommendations. And of course, we get calls from people who are outside to pick up their items on hold.
There are about 300,000 new books published in the United States each year. So how do particular titles end up at your library for you to borrow? Our staff keep up with lots and and lots of industry publications both in print and online, reading reviews, and learning about pre-publication notifications for titles expected to be critically acclaimed or popular, or those that fill a particular niche. Our librarians then decide which titles to purchase for our collection based on their intimate knowledge of not only the publishing industry and the world of literature, but of the needs and interests of our particular community as well. We have a limited amount of funds to purchase books and other materials each year, so these decisions must be made strategically and with a lot of thought. Our selection responsibilities are divided up among our staff based on each librarian’s specific interests and areas of expertise. Orders for new materials are placed weekly from several established vendors so that we receive the best discounts, and occasionally, directly from small presses. Once items are received, they must be cataloged and added to our circulation system, and physically processed to make them durable and ready for borrowing.
Our website and newsletter have become so much more necessary since the pandemic began. A great deal of staff time is spent updating our website with browsable bookshelves of new and recommended materials, new useful information, and program information. Staff also prepare and send out our weekly newsletter, which has become a vital tool for keeping our users up to date about our resources, programs, and materials.
And speaking of programs… Since the library building closed its doors, our staff have managed to keep our users connected with us and each other through a robust and creative suite of remote programs. I am so proud of our staff and their efforts to meet the anticipated needs of our users in this most stressful and isolating time. Since we closed our doors last March, we have hosted nearly 400 virtual programs, with a total attendance of nearly 6,000! Planning, promoting, and conducting these programs takes an enormous amount of care, energy, and time and we are so gratified by the many kind words and expressions of appreciation we receive from participants on a daily basis.
As I mentioned, we pack up an average of 8 totes per day of materials either being returned to other libraries, or going out to users of other libraries who have placed them on hold. But we also receive about 5 – 7 totes of materials each day. Those totes contain items returned to us by other libraries, or items owned by other libraries that our users have requested. Each tote must be unpacked, and each item scanned. Scanning either generates a hold pick-up notice for one of our users, or clears the “in transit” status of the item so that it can be shelved and made available once again for borrowing.
In a nutshell, that is what goes on each day behind the scenes at Thomas Memorial Library. And that doesn’t include the extra fun items such as preparing Take and Make Kits for children, teens, and adults, our delivery to homebound users, and the more tedious administrative tasks that are necessary to keep this whole machine running. During our curbside pick-up hours, all of this busy-ness is being accomplished by our amazing multitasking librarians, who manage to check out, package up, and run down the stairs to deliver your curbside orders. We are all of us so happy we’ve been able to be able to provide a consistent level of library service to our community despite the challenges of the pandemic. So when you glimpse us placing your curbside order on the cart, please know that, even though you can’t tell because we are all wearing masks, we are delivering our service to you with a smile.