Ebook loans, book dispensers: how are libraries adjusting to the pandemic?

·3-min read

Public libraries have had to adapt their offering and imagine new ways to pursue their activity while most "non-essential" public places have remained closed worldwide because of the pandemic. Book-lending machines or "Library-to-go" systems are a few examples of how these institutions are helping book lovers get their fix.

The London Library recently signed a partnership with digital service OverDrive to allow its members to loan ebooks. An internal survey showed that 60% of London Library members would like to have greater access to ebooks daily.

"The Coronavirus situation has reinforced the importance of online content at a time when accessing physical collections can be more difficult. Our online journals and resources are already very heavily used by members," noted the London Library officials.

The institution's librarians therefore put together an ebook catalogue available to loans, comprising works frequently borrowed by its London members as well as award-winning titles. Among the highlights are "Grand Union" by Zadie Smith, "Girl, Woman, Other" by Bernardine Evaristo and "Stern Men" by Elizabeth Gilbert.

While the London Library has started welcoming back the public in July, its operations are still limited due to the sanitary guidelines in effect in the UK.

When libraries turn to innovation

American libraries have also had to adapt to the new health measures, especially in Los Angeles, where the 72 municipal libraries have remained closed for months. Several locations have launched a new book pick-up and drop-off service. City dwellers just need to go online and book the publications they would like to read and pick them up at a fixed time, wearing a mask.

"Learning to live with COVID-19 means finding new ways to reconnect us with critical public resources, and Library To Go will provide Angelenos with access to this civic and cultural treasure," said city mayor Eric Garcetti, in a press release.

On the other side of the Pacific, Singapore's Choa Chu Kang public library recently unveiled its first "book lending machine."

This automatic device, set up in the Lot One Shoppers' Mall, contains many books in English from the library's collection. Bookworms can also navigate the Choa Chu Kang library's e-book catalogue and reserve publications they want from the machine.

Spaces of solidarity

Many libraries are also trying to build their connections with impoverished local communities who used to spend time in their areas.  A recent survey, conducted among 200 American Library Association members, showed that 65% would like libraries to invest more in social work in the future. 

Because public libraries are more than just areas for reading books. Many individuals in need visit them to have free access to computers or to seek refuge when housing shelters close during the day.

That's one of the reasons why the Toronto Public Library in Canada has decided to partner with local food banks to include children's books in its hampers.

"One third of our food bank clients are children, so I know that our families will appreciate the addition of these books in the hampers," says Ryan Noble, Executive Director at North York Harvest Food Bank.

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