Home delivery: a more comfortable way for patrons to get library materials during a global pandemic.
What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting
On March 13, 2020 staff and patrons alike sat stunned as the Fox River Valley Public Library District closed the doors of its two locations, the Dundee Library and the Randall Oaks Library, in response to a global pandemic. The first few weeks were spent scrambling to figure out how to adapt, and how this would change our daily lives, and our future. Yes, we could communicate, read, watch, and search digitally. But it was the most basic service, the one we’ve been doing for more than 140 years, that presented the biggest challenge—getting physical materials to our patrons.
We decided that if the patrons couldn’t come to the materials, we’d bring the materials to them. Not an easy task, as we are the seventh largest library district in Illinois and our service area covers 44 square miles consisting of seven different towns. Perpetually underfunded, we knew we had to work with what we already had, which was one van and a very determined staff. By May, we had a plan for Home Delivery in place and a limited number of staff returned to the building to begin the labor.
Congratulations! It’s a Home Delivery Service!
Account Services Manager Keri Carroll swiftly conceived a process for Home Delivery. Two staff members pulled and processed holds. IT staff created an online form for patrons to request home delivery. Keri started out by personally calling every patron with a hold on the shelf to ask if they wanted Home Delivery. She then concocted a route daily for driver Ruben Carcamo.
“We wanted to ensure we reached those patrons who may not have reliable internet access but who were still very much interested in receiving their holds,” Keri said.
According to Keri, the process was labor-intensive, but manageable.
“We would sort through incoming requests and confirm which patrons with holds had selected home delivery, create the routes and notification emails, and generate spreadsheets for staff to pull, checkout, and bag the deliveries.”
An assembly line made quick work of bagging items, affixing a label with name and address, and organizing bags into bins according to neighborhood. Various flyers were stuffed in the bags as well to promote our attempts at engagement such as a Community BINGO card and a Youth Services At Home Activity Calendar.
We announced the new Home Delivery Service on May 12. We received 150 requests in the first week and lots of positive comments on social media.
- “So looking forward to this service! We miss our weekly visits to the library!!!”
- “Yay!! Thank you so much!! We can’t wait to get our books.”
- “You made my household joyous again with getting items from the library. My children love the library and for my 14yr old to hear that he can do this; book choices jumped around his head! Thanks.”
- “you guys keep safe while you expand services!!!”
- “Willing to be a volunteer driver one day a week if you can use us...”
In June, Ruben made 660 deliveries. He said that June was very busy, but an exciting time as well as they offered this great new service. “People were really excited about receiving their materials and some were even watching for them from their windows.”
You Learn As You Go Along
We have learned a lot since our first delivery on May 20 and have made adjustments to improve efficiency.
When the buildings were closed, any item that was held for a patron who had requested home delivery was added to the delivery queue. But once we reopened our doors on July 6, it became more complicated, and staff time was quickly filling up with routine library duties. Plus, due to the nature of the home delivery request form, there was no easy way for patrons to “opt out” of the service if they would prefer to visit the library in-person for their holds.
Keri worked with CCS to create a third “pickup branch” within our online catalog, allowing patrons to have complete control over whether to continue with home delivery and even giving them the freedom to cherry-pick which items they’d like delivered. Before the hold is placed, patrons are asked at which branch they’d like to pick up their hold. Now, they can select “Fox River Valley – Home Delivery” and their items will automatically be set aside for delivery.
The service has been such a success that the FRVPLD management team decided to keep it as a permanent service. It not only helps us serve patrons during the ever-changing pandemic restrictions and guidelines, it also helps us serve patrons who live geographically far from the library – a challenge we’ve been trying to address for years (including a failed referendum in 2016 to build a new library). As of November 30, we have made 2,615 deliveries.
While we wouldn’t dream of picking a favorite from our many library services, we will say that we are very proud of Home Delivery.
Our guest blogger today is Kirstin Finneran. Kirstin is the Public Relations & Outreach Manager at the Fox River Valley Public Library District. Kirstin is also a member of the My Library Is.. Advisory Team.