A Look At Our Local Libraries During the Pandemic

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Redwood City History

The Redwood City Library has had to adjust operations during the pandemic, but is planning to reopen soon.

Many local businesses were forced to shut down in order to slow the spread of COVID-19; among these businesses were our local libraries. We reached out to local library employees as well as members of our community who rely on the library system to understand how libraries have had to adjust to operating digitally over the course of the past year.

“What is a library? You know what is the public library, and we are a community hub. We are a lot more than just getting reading material into people’s hands. It’s a meeting place; it’s classes, it’s storytimes, it’s programming, it’s outreach. So, the challenge was figuring out how to provide services in as many of those areas as we could,” Pam Evans said.

Pam Evans is a Youth Services Librarian at the Redwood City Public Library. I spoke with her about the obstacles brought on by COVID that the library had to face. In particular, we discussed how vital of a role libraries play in our communities. Similar to how libraries play an important role in the community, the community also plays an important role when it comes to the library.

“I have a handful of regulars who are avid readers, and even they stopped coming during the pandemic,” said Sequoia High School librarian Mrs. Snow.

In addition to the lower number of library users when the pandemic first hit, libraries had to adjust operations to deal with the loss of volunteers.

“The loss of volunteers is huge. The volunteer community is a lot of work for us. And, you know, not having them available has been challenging,” Evans stated.

Although these circumstances were not ideal, the local city government did its best to soften the blow of the pandemic.

“We’ve been very well taken care of,” Evans stated. “[The City of Redwood City] have really done their best to provide the resources we need to provide the PPE that we need to make sure that we’re working in shifts, so there aren’t too many people at the same time.”

A development that allowed patrons to enjoy the services of the library once more was Curbside Pickup. Here is patron Virginia Okabayashi on her experiences with the newly-digitized experience at the Redwood City Public Library.

“Initially, it (curbside pickup) was a little bumpy because they were trying to figure it out, but in the last few months, it was fine. You just show your library card when you pick it up.”

The Redwood City Library launched their curbside pickup service in June of 2020. Now that the service has now been up and running for over ten months, they have figured out how to operate efficiently and smoothly.

“We are pulling hundreds of holds a day that are going out through the curbside program,” Evans said. “And the other piece of it has been the grab the bags, where people say, just give me some picture books for my kids or just give me some new fiction, and that has been incredibly successful.”

Curbside services have now extended beyond just books. The Redwood City Library has created a curbside version of craft activities for children.

We assembled all of the materials that you would need to do the crafts into a bag, and then we would leave them to quarantine so that they would be safe to hand out, and then we would have a particular day that you drive through the parking lot, and we would hand you the bag of materials, which would have a QR code that would take you to the videos, so you would watch the video, there’s the library and doing the storytime, and here are the instructions to do the material, the craft, which all of the materials are in the bags for you,” Evans said.

The pandemic and physical library closures have actually had many other positive effects.

“The physical closure of building made people more aware of all the resources libraries have to offer a lot, which I think usually goes unnoticed,” Obakayashi added.

One of the crucial services that the library has found ways to offer are wifi and hot-spot resources.

“We increased the number of hotspots we have available for checkout,” Evans stated. “We really actively promoted getting those to neighborhoods that we knew have less access, so that program built up a lot.”

Several library patrons noticed that they were beginning to use more and more of the services libraries had to offer because they opened their horizons to new digital technologies. As libraries have been more actively promoting services such as eBooks and computers-by-appointment, patrons have become increasingly aware of these digital technologies.

“The library should do a better job of showing the services they provide. We get so used to buying things on Amazon and listening on Audible that you really forget everything the library is offering. Most people aren’t even aware of it,” Obakayashi stated.

So what is the public really getting out of physical, in-person libraries, and why is there still a need for them in today’s day and age?

“It builds community… as a senior citizen, you can go there, and as a teenager, you can go there just to switch it up and not always be in your house/room,” Obakayashi said.

This sentiment is recognized by both patrons and the libraries. Pam Evans agrees:

“The library appreciates the community. We’ve worked really hard to continue to be that community hub in a virtual space, and we so appreciate that the community has continued to support us and be there for us, just as we’ve tried to be there for them.”

For KQED and The Woodside Paw Print, this is Amelie de Leon and Charlie Sullivan.