The library, delivered. Or curbside. Or online. How pandemic options are still checking out.

Necessity had to be the mother of invention for area libraries amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With the initial shutdown of March 2020, libraries were forced to rethink the ways they could share their materials with patrons.

“A lot was developed on the fly over the past two years,” said Diane Foote, executive director of the Illinois Library Associations. “What we're finding is a lot of these services and new ways of doing business are popular with patrons.”

So those makeshift services are sticking around.

Many libraries took a page from other industries to serve the demands of people who were self-isolating or quarantining at home, Foote said.

Like restaurants offering curbside pickup of takeout food, many libraries started packaging items so they could be dropped off into patrons' vehicles. And now curbside pickup is a regular service at many libraries.

“Even though libraries are open to in-person public service again, people like to have the library bring out their stuff,” Foote said.

Libraries that had drive-through windows, like the Algonquin Area Public Library, also saw extensive use from people preferring “contactless” interactions. It's one reason drive-through windows are being considered by libraries in Lombard and Lisle that are planning new or renovated buildings.

Many libraries have also instituted home delivery programs that mirror those ubiquitous online shopping trucks dropping off packages door to door.

For instance, the Fox River Valley Public Library in East Dundee started home deliveries to all patrons in May 2020. It's kept the service on as a regular option.

“We did have to start budgeting for delivery materials, packaging supplies and masks for staff driving the vans,” account services manager Keri Carroll said.

Other libraries also took up home delivery, which often was just an expansion of existing services.

For example, Mount Prospect Public Library, Naperville Public Library and Algonquin Area Public Library all had homebound delivery services in place for patrons with mobility issues. They expanded it to all patrons for a time.

“As the pandemic went on, we saw a big reduction in demand for home delivery,” Mount Prospect Public Library program library supervisor Jennifer Massa said. The expanded home delivery service lasted for about a year.

Like post office boxes or Amazon delivery lockers, Mount Prospect Public Library recently installed “hold lockers” in its parking lot for patrons to pick up materials at any hour.

And if you really want to go old school, Algonquin Area Public Library director Sara Murray reminded patrons about the “Borrow by Mail” service in place since 2017. Materials are sent via the U.S. Postal Service at a media mail rate.

“Use of the Borrow By Mail service doubled during the first year of the pandemic and continues to be popular,” Murray said.

According to Foote, libraries also heavily expanded their digital offerings. She added that there is a statewide need for expanded broadband access so patrons can check out e-books e-audio books and other online entertainment via streaming.

“Our increased virtual presence is almost like supporting a new branch,” said Wheaton Public Library director Betsy Adamowski in a statement. “We're managing in-person and virtual — doing it all, 24/7.”

  Jack Gallaway delivers books from the Fox River Valley Public Library in East Dundee to the Arendt family on Friday. Some libraries introduced home delivery of materials as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, then kept on offering the service. Brian Hill/
Naperville Public Library donated withdrawn or donated materials to the Martin Avenue Apartments and other area senior living facilities in October 2020. Courtesy of Naperville Public Library
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