CORONAVIRUS

In pandemic, libraries come to you

Cedar Rapids adds delivery and personal shoppers

Andrea Jilovec, a patron services specialist, fulfills online book orders Dec. 19 at the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Li
Andrea Jilovec, a patron services specialist, fulfills online book orders Dec. 19 at the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library. Library staff have had to adapt to changing needs on an almost-daily basis during the pandemic. Among the chamges: Patrons can reserve materials to pick up by appointment at curbside or to have delivered for a fee to their door. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Like so many other organizations and businesses, the usually bustling Cedar Rapids Public Library has had to get creative in finding ways to keep serving customers during the pandemic.

“Over the past nine months, we’ve had to adapt our programming, we’ve had shift our customer service from in-person to online and we’ve had to find new ways to deliver our services and materials,” said library Executive Director Dara Schmidt.

Those new ways include curbside pickup of library materials, personal shopping and surprise grab bags; acquiring and implementing tools to help families whose children are learning from home rather than in school — and door step delivery.

Forced to close as the number of positive COVID-19 cases climbed in the early weeks of the pandemic, the library had to address how to get its hard-copy materials into the hands of those who needed them.

“That’s where the curbside pickup started,” Schmidt said. “It was something that our patrons had wanted for a while now and we were still figuring out how to implement it. But when the pandemic hit and we had to close, starting a curbside pickup service became crucial.”

Ordering materials for curbside service is simple. Just go to the library’s webpage on the program at crlibrary.org/curbside-holds. Then fill out a form requesting the materials you want and set a time to pick them up. They will be wrapped in a paper bag and placed on a table in front of the library at the scheduled time. Curbside pickup s offered at both the downtown and Ladd Library locations.

Since the curbside service began, nearly 50,000 patrons have used the curbside service and more than 130,000 items were delivered during the pandemic, said Amber McNamara, the library’s community relations manager.

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The library also developed and implemented a personal shopping program and started offering grab bags for patrons looking for book recommendations.

For the personal shopping program, Schmidt said patrons can go to the library website and fill out a curbside materials request form where they answer a few questions about their reading preferences. Based on the answers, the library staff will select materials they think you would enjoy and leave them at the curbside table at your scheduled pickup time.

“The grab bags are similar, but different,” Schmidt said. “For the grab bags, maybe you don’t have an idea of what type of books you’d like to read, but you have an idea of the genres you like. Again, that person can fill out a form on the website and library staff will pick out a few books and put together a grab bag that can be picked up curbside.”

Additionally, Schmidt said the library has started offering delivery services. Working with a delivery service called Chomp — the same service the Iowa City Public Library has been using — Schmidt said patrons in the Cedar Rapids area can go online, order materials and have them delivered to their door. There is a delivery fee that varies according to distance.

“We had been thinking about starting up with a delivery service for a while — it seemed like it would especially be utilized during the winter months. And when the pandemic hit, we figured this was the time to get it started. So we rolled out that delivery service a few weeks ago and it’s too early to tell if it will be successful, but it seems like people are really loving it.”

Schmidt said the Marion and Hiawatha public libraries also have recently started offering delivery through Chomp.

And, for parents and students who are trying to navigate online schooling, Schmidt said the library — with the help of the Friends of the Library, which provided funding — was able to purchase HelpNow, an online homework help resource that features free online tutoring, writing labs and a collaboration space.

“More than 1,200 users have accessed this digital resource since its launch in mid-September,” McNamara said.

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“So that’s just another way that the library has been able to look at the community, look at what people need and what are the gaps in resources and try to meet that need,” Schmidt said.

The library also had to shift its focus from in-person customer service to the promotion of digital products and services, which Schmidt said was perhaps one of the biggest adjustment staff members had to make.

Having never done virtual programming before, the library team immediately took programs virtual and saw more than 10,000 views in the first month alone, McNamara said.

Those programs include virtual story times for early learners, STEAM programs, special performances by musicians and artists, adult education, game nights and collaborations with local partners.

Since the pandemic began in March, McNamara said, the Library provided more than 350 virtual programs viewed more than 123,000 times.

The library shifted its budget and resources to increase digital materials, McNamara said.

Streaming services such as Hoopla — which offers eBooks, audiobooks, TV and movies — and Kanopy — which offers movies and TV — saw over 82,000 uses through the library since the pandemic began.

“It’s been really amazing to see what we can do and find new ways to work with the community and meet its needs,” Schmidt said. “And the staff has been amazing. All these changes, they’ve just run with it, and they are constantly finding way to streamline or improve what we’re doing.”

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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