Libraries’ home delivery service proves a COVID-19 success story

Once, the books were tightly packed, but now there are gaping holes on the shelves.

Five days a week, staff in Springvale Library stand socially distanced, wearing masks and gloves, bundling books for click-and-collect orders and postal packages.

Librarians Latifa, Debbie and Nevenka at the Springvale Library.Credit:Penny Stephens

The pandemic service offered by many of Victoria's 280 public libraries has proven so popular that, for the first time, many risk running out of adult fiction and children's books.

"Crime, biographies, children’s books, those are the shelves that are mostly looking thinner and thinner," Greater Dandenong senior library services co-ordinator Natalie Brown said.

Inspired by the Home Library Service – which in normal times delivered books to the elderly and people with disabilities – libraries have been finding new ways to support reading in their community, offering contactless home deliveries and click-and-collect services.

One of the unexpected challenges has been demand for books exceeding supply as the community embraces the service. Public libraries extended return dates so people did not feel rushed to return their books and take risks travelling around the community during lockdown.

"We are very glad return chutes across Victoria have been reopened," Public Libraries Victoria president Chris Buckingham said.

"It was a close-run thing, but we have managed to keep people reading throughout the lockdown.

"The feedback from community has been overwhelming. People have literally described the home delivery service as a life-saver."

Not all libraries chose to remain operational during lockdown. Mr Buckingham said it came down to how each council interpreted the state government restrictions.

At Casey Cardinia Libraries, where Mr Buckingham is CEO, staff members have packaged more than 15,000 parcels containing 150,000 books – each with a handwritten note from the librarian who packed it – since doors closed in March.

Casey Cardinia Libraries still has more than half its collection out on loan.

With shelves starting to thin, many libraries have to think outside the box. Library "valet" loans allow staff to recommend new reads for members whose first choices are unavailable.

Jenny Pond, 74, of Dandenong North, said the pot luck of borrowing had broadened her and her husband's tastes. The couple had visited a library every three weeks for 45 years until the pandemic left them shut out.

At first Ms Pond decided to re-read the collection on her bookcase, but she had a nice surprise when library staff called to ask if there were books she would like delivered.

"My husband has managed to discover some favourite new authors through the delivery," she said.

Mr Buckingham believed deliveries had taken off because books had become a core part of supporting wellbeing during lockdown. "If you can read, you can travel anywhere in the world. You can be in a murder mystery, on a train, at a beach, your mind takes you places where you want to be," he said.

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