Blackwell demonstrates drive-thru window

Michael Blackwell, director of the St. Mary’s County Library, demonstrates use of the drive-thru window at the new Leonardtown library on a tour of the new facility in April.

Although library systems in Southern Maryland are now operating on a more limited basis as COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the state, librarians are ensuring the community still has access to most of the free services normally available.

While Charles County Public Library branches have been closed to the public since the beginning of the pandemic, St. Mary’s County Library branches reopened on a limited basis earlier but had to once again close its doors beginning this week.

“It is with heavy hearts that we make these changes,” Michael Blackwell, St. Mary’s library director, said in a release. “We were one of the first libraries in Maryland to restore in-branch services, and rolling back some services is as unwelcome for us as for our customers. We make these changes to maintain as many essential services as possible while trying to ensure the safety of the community. We look forward to the day when we can reopen completely for our full hours with all our services.”

Curbside services at libraries in Charles, St. Mary’s and Calvert counties will continue for now. When picking up, customers should wear a mask and should not leave their vehicles. Library staff will be wearing personal protective equipment and practicing social distancing during curbside transactions. Box drops should be used for returning all items. Appointments can be scheduled through the county library websites.

In St. Mary’s, appointments can also be made for computer, copier or fax machine use.

“Public access to computers is a really important service we want to provide for as long as we can,” Laura Boonchaisri, marketing and communications manager of St. Mary’s County Library, said this week. “We’re still providing services in the most efficient and safe way for customers and staff.”

In place of physical browsing of the library collections, systems in St. Mary’s and Charles counties offer “grab bags” which include selections of books and movies put together by library staff, as well as to-go craft kits for kids stuck at home.

Boonchaisri pointed out a large number of people signed up for library cards since the beginning of the pandemic and noted a “big uptick” in the amount of e-books getting checked out. She said between April and June, St. Mary’s libraries saw a 61% increase in digital checkouts over the same period in 2019 and a 42% increase between July and September.

While the library system already had a “really robust” digital collection, she said additional funds have been designated to securing more digital materials due to the pandemic. As far as programming, she said there “is stuff for all ages” being offered such as story activities for children and art classes for teens and adults.

Erin Del Signore, marketing manager for Charles public libraries, told Southern Maryland News this week that libraries across the state have worked together to create some “great virtual programming,” including talks with best-selling authors.

She said some new digital resources that have been launched during the pandemic and are free to the public include Freegal, a music streaming service, Kanopy, an application which provides access to thousands of movies and documentaries, and Brainfuse, an online homework help program.

According to the manager, Charles will also continue to utilize their mobile library and outreach van. While both vehicles provide library card services, pop-up programs, materials to check-out, a computer for public use and free Wi-Fi access for customers within a 100-foot radius of the vehicle, the mobile library also offers printing and copying services. A schedule for the vehicles can be found at www.ccplonline.org/mobile-library.

Public libraries in Calvert County opened in September on a limited basis after COVID-19 related closures and will remain open for now to residents willing to wear face coverings and social distance. Visits are to be kept short — under an hour — and curbside appointments are available to pick up materials on hold, print or copy jobs and 3D printing jobs.

Some services that haven’t been instated since the beginning of the pandemic include meeting or study room use and passport processing.

According to Robyn Truslow, public relations coordinator for Calvert Library, staff found a way to answer calls from home so they could rotate who was in the building, but continue to help customers at the same capacity. All four Calvert branches have a limit of how many people can occupy the building at once, with larger branches such as Prince Frederick holding 46 people and smaller branches, like the Fairview branch and Twin Beaches branch only holding 15 and 11 people at a time respectively.

In addition to “beefing up” their electronic collection, Truslow said the libraries invested in more hotspots, ordered Chromebooks, some with hotspots, for circulation, and offer virtual “programming of all sorts.”

Twitter: @MadisonSoMdNews

Twitter: @MadisonSoMdNews