Many of the Kalamazoo Public Library’s patrons are following the institution online, checking out e-books and asking questions through chat. For others, though, services don’t translate so easily to the web, says KPL librarian Caitlin Hoag.
Hoag and her colleagues are working from home during the coronavirus shutdown, helping patrons to find information and virtually check out materials.
“Our e-books, the numbers are going up as far as people checking them out,” said Hoag. “It just really shot up in the time since everyone’s been quarantined.”
Users with access to the web can also log into Storytime Live events for children, and on April 22 at 6 pm they can join KPL true-crime reading club It's Crime We Talk for a discussion of Maggie Nelson’s book The Red Parts. Hoag said information would be posted on KPL’s Facebook page, which she said was a good place to follow the library during the shutdown.
While meetings and book checkout, in some sense, can continue online, some services don’t lend themselves to a virtual library, Hoag said. Many patrons come to KPL to get internet access in the first place.
“The digital divide is really real,” she said. “We see people all the time who are applying to jobs, who are using internet access at the library to follow up on schoolwork. So that is a big difference, not being able to offer that kind of technology, especially at a time when technology is so important because that is how people are communicating.”
In an effort to serve as many users as possible, KPL has “relaxed’ some rules, she said. The library has lifted blocks on cards with unreturned materials.
“Because nobody’s able to return materials at this time, we’re being a little more lenient as far as that goes,” Hoag said.
Patrons who cannot access their accounts can get help through the “Ask a Librarian” chat window on KPL’s website, she added. Librarians can help a person retrieve their account information. “That’s typically not something we would do. We usually require IDs. Instead we just ask some questions,” she said.