Our first guest blog post in response to this request is from Danielle Miller, Director & Regional Librarian, Washington Talking Book & Braille Library.
COVID-19 and the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library
We are all experiencing a crisis most of didn’t imagine we would be in, and might not have felt adequately prepared to manage. These are unprecedented times and our libraries are vital resources for our patrons, yet many of us are finding we are having to stop, decrease, or modify services to our patrons in response to the pandemic. Washington State was the initial U.S. coronavirus epicenter. Home to the first case of coronavirus, and the first death on February 29th was in King County, where the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library (WTBBL) is located. On March 2nd there were 14 more cases, 6 more deaths, and schools began closing. In response to the growing concerns about patron, volunteer, and staff safety, that same day we implemented new procedures in handling our mail. All books, including DBs, braille, LP, and any new items, were checked in or processed using gloves. Incoming materials were then set aside and marked with the date and were quarantined (not put into circulation or inspection) for eight days. PCC or our proto Duplication on Demand patron cartridges were checked in like others, using gloves, and then the cartridges were disinfected and received new (previously unused, or not used for a period longer than 8 days) mailing containers. Machines were disinfected and also dated and set aside for a period of eight days before going back into circulation.
On March 3rd we sent a message to our volunteers about all the safety measures we were implementing at WTBBL and letting them know they only needed to come if they felt comfortable doing so. We were open and operating as normal, but adding precautions for everyone’s safety. Our maintenance custodian was disinfecting all door handles, tables, water fountains, and frequently touched surfaces at least three times a day. The surfaces and chairs in the audio recording booths were being disinfected throughout the day. We added Kleenex and hand sanitizer in multiple locations throughout the building, as well as adding hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes in the audio booths. We also put up notices in the building and at the volunteer sign-in station describing the precautions we were taking. We did see a decline in the number of volunteers coming to the library, but many still came, especially volunteer narrators and reviewers.
By March 15th, there were 772 confirmed cases and our Governor announced that all entertainment and recreational facilities, including bars and restaurants, were to close. The next day, WTBBL closed to the public and all volunteers. All staff continued to come to work and perform their regular duties and we continued circulation of materials as usual while following the safety measures previously outlined. On March 17th, the number of cases had jumped to 1,009 and we were anticipating that the Governor would soon issue a stay-at-home order. Worrying we would could be sent home at any time and not be able to send out materials, we decided to do a surge in our circulation to push our extra books to our patrons.
For all patrons with cutoffs between 4-16 books, we increased them all by four books. Our average daily circulation is between 1,200-1,500 items and we raised our daily circulation cutoff from 2,500 to 4,000. So on March 19, 20, 23, and 24, we did circs of over 4,000 digital books. More than we have ever done! This push got four additional books, over 16,000 cartridges to almost 4,000 patrons. We had started our push to get extra books out just in time, as on March 23rd, Governor Inslee announced a “stay home, stay healthy,” order effective March 25th, and currently in effect until May 5th but may yet be extended.
Beginning March 25th, all staff started working remotely. We are checking our voicemail remotely, encouraging people to sign up for BARD if that is an option for them, checking and answering our WTBBL email, approving BARD applications and providing BARD support by email, and posting to our social media. Some staff are also working on various cataloging projects, our Audio Book Production Department staff are working on editing and review as they can, and we have some transcription work for our Braille Department in progress.
For many staff, they are working on taking trainings and staying current on email. For the most part we have not been able to access the building, but as of April 15th, we were able to resume the delivery of our returned book mail and our First Class mail. On our first day we received 20 hampers of books. We will be receiving our mail delivery daily and I will be going in three days a week to process First Class mail. Unfortunately, we are unable to send out any books at this time. We are all hopeful we can begin to return to work and start circulating books again on May 5th. The digital divide experienced by so many of our users, and the many, many voicemails begging for books we can’t send demonstrate what an essential service our patrons believe we are. As soon as we are given the all clear, we’ll be ready to be all hands on deck to get through all our returned materials and start sending out books again, so that all may read.