LACONIA — Richard Dunn pulled into the parking lot of the Laconia Public Library Friday morning, got out of his pickup truck and walked up to the main entrance. Just outside the front door was a table with four plastic shopping bags lying on it. Dunn grabbed the one with the Post-it note that said, “Dunn, 9:30.”
“I miss coming to the library,” Dunn said as he walked back to his truck.
Dunn said he is partial to biographies, especially biographies about musicians.
“I love and appreciate the library,” he said.
Dunn is among the hundreds of local residents the library has been able to continue to serve through a pick up-and-go service. Patrons are able to request books and other material either online or on the phone. Library staffers then pull the books, DVDs or CDs off the shelves and place the requested material in a plastic bag, which is then left on a table just outside the library’s Church Street entrance.
John Moriarty, the chairman of the Library Board of Trustees, likes to call it the library’s take-out service.
Laconia has one of the few libraries in the state which has continued to loan out books and other materials during the coronavirus pandemic.
The collections of other libraries around the Lakes Region are closed to the public. Many, however, have expanded their online offerings by adding platforms like Kanopy, an on-demand streaming video platform for public libraries and universities that offers films and documentaries.
Most area libraries, including Laconia, Gilford and Meredith, have gone online for their children’s programs, including storytimes.
Those libraries that typically charge fines for overdue books have suspended late fees during the pandemic.
When Laconia library patrons are finished with their books they simply bring them back and place them in the after-hours book drop next to the front door. The books are then quarantined for a week. Then staff members sanitize the books before placing them back on the shelves, Moriarty explained. As an added precaution, the library is asking patrons to wipe down any items they pick up, and again before returning them.
Books and other items can be picked up between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays.
Moriarty said that an average of about 500 people have been taking advantage of the grab-and-go service. That’s about one-quarter of the library’s average weekly patronage, he said.
Many books are available online and can be downloaded to the devices of cardholders of most libraries in the area.
“Many members of the community have made use of library services to learn about digital tools, to get help adjusting to socially distanced lifestyles, and to connect to other community members in virtual programs,” the Gilford Public Library said in a media release Friday.
Like many other libraries, Gilford is offering storytimes online, as well as daily teen programming, and video-call book discussions.
One service which libraries, including Laconia, have had to eliminate entirely for the time being is public computer access.
“It’s what a lot of people come to the library for,” Moriarty explained. The users are typically people who otherwise have no computer or internet access. As a result, the library is keeping its wifi on 24/7 so people can access the internet through their laptops, tablets or smartphones from the library’s parking lot. Usually the wifi hotspot is live only when the library is open, Moriarty said.
The take-out service has also been well-received at the Conway Public Library, one of the other libraries which have embraced the concept.
“There are a lot of people who really need it,” library Director David Smolen said.
As with other libraries, Conway has seen an increased demand for online services, and like Moriarty, Smolen lamented that the library cannot offer computer access to those who need it.
“We have people who come to the library to apply for unemployment,” Smolen pointed out.
Smolen said the pick up-and-go concept has been strongly criticized by some in the library community.
“Many have been vilified by other libraries who see it as reckless,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
He said no one on the library staff is interacting with the public, and staffers are practicing social distancing inside the library.
“We just thought, ‘How can we make this work,'” Smolen said.
The library in North Conway, which is separate from the municipally-operated Conway Library, is also offering so-called curbside pick-up two days a week.