Many bloggers are avid library users, perhaps returning each month or each week– or even more frequently– to browse the collection, pick up holds, and attend library programs. When the pandemic started, however, most libraries eventually shut down (though many held out longer, regardless of safety concerns, presumably due to “vocational awe“). Programs were moved online, browsing prohibited in favor of curbside pickup, and buildings closed to the public. Each library system has reacted differently, with some moving to near “normal” operations by the summer or fall of 2020, others choosing to open by appointment only, and still others opting to remain closed to the public for the foreseeable future. Regardless of the path chosen, however, the pandemic has undoubtedly changed both the way libraries operate and the way people view them and use them.
For my part, I had to accept that the closure of the libraries meant no more browsing. In some ways, this did not affect me overly much. I am already familiar with how the online catalog works and the procedures used to place a hold on an item. I also follow the book industry and thus am positioned to be able to look up desired titles fairly easily, unlike many others who presumably do not follow authors or publishers online, and many only realize their favorite writer has released a new book when they see it on the shelf. Even so, I still enjoy browsing. I still find titles I might have otherwise overlooked, perhaps because of limited marketing or perhaps because somehow the title did not catch my eye when I saw it online. For me, some of the joy of serendipity was lost when the libraries closed.
Additionally, I had to switch over to e-books for a long time. Although I do own an e-reader, I much prefer to read hard copies of a book, especially if the book is longer or contains weighty material. I did not particularly enjoy the days when I was forced to read digital copies only. And, of course, because digital materials are so much more expensive for libraries to purchase than physical copies, I had only a limited selection of titles to choose from, with long wait lists on top of that. Services such as Hoopla, where libraries pay per borrow, are nice, but not every library has them and libraries still put a cap on a user’s monthly borrows. Because I read extensively, I cannot rely only on a service like Hoopla.
For some, I imagine that the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way they use the library. Some people may have realized that they can place holds on books from other libraries and have them delivered to their home library. Some people may hope curbside delivery continues and they never have to step foot in the building again. Some people may have realized that they can borrow e-books and will continue to do so even once the libraries reopen fully.
As for me? The pandemic has changed how I use the library, but not in a way I wish to continue. I long for the day when I can browse the bookshelves freely again, when the processing department is not a month to a year behind in putting new books on the shelf, when I can read only physical volumes and ditch the e-reader. And, yes, I long for the day when I can meet people in-person during programs, and not only see them on a screen. (Bonus if we get free snacks!) The pandemic has changed the way I use the library, but that has only made me appreciate the library and all its services all the more.
What about you? Has your library use changed? Will you keep these changes going forward? Do you see yourself, for instance, borrowing more e-books in future or attending virtual programs?