The Norfolk Public Library’s doors have been closed for more than two months now, but that doesn’t mean it has stopped serving people.
Jessica Chamberlain, director of the library, said the public library is an important service for many people, perhaps even more so with the ongoing pandemic and lockdown procedures.
“Many people are experiencing isolation right now, and they have relied on the library as part of their routine,” Chamberlain said. “By staying open, we hope we can provide a little sense of normalcy in people’s lives.”
Chamberlain said a good book can help those who are feeling isolated. And there are several ways to get one.
Books and other materials may be checked out by calling the library. Patrons can pick them up through a locker outside the building or the library can mail them. The library also has digital ebooks and is offering a new digital access library card free of charge during the lockdown.
Chamberlain said that between the use of ebooks and checkouts by mail and the locker system, the library had 39% of its usual circulation. While that’s still a significant decline, Chamberlain said more people used the library than expected.
“These methods have been well-received so far,” she said.
Workers at the library are also helping those who don’t know what they want to read. They can offer suggestions and curate collections based on genre and reader preferences, including for young kids.
The library has also been helping people out in other ways besides providing free books.
The library is one of few places where wireless internet can be freely accessed, and anyone is welcome to come to the library’s parking lot for those who need it. Chamberlain said not many people have taken advantage, but there have been some.
The library also freely rents out mobile Wi-Fi hotspots. For three weeks at a time, the library will give hotspot equipment to be used at home. The library has been offering this service since 2017 and recently received a grant to increase its number of units to 40.
At the time of the interview for this story, Chamberlain said she wasn’t able to discuss reopening plans for the library. This week, however, it was announced the pick-up window would reopen Monday, June 1, and the building would have a limited reopening beginning June 15.
“We’re exploring baby steps for reopening,” she said. “The most important thing is the health and safety of the public.”
Chamberlain said the library building, built in 2018, is a place designed for community congregation. But now, in a health crisis, that must be avoided. To prevent large gatherings, visitors will be limited to just 30 minutes at the building, and community spaces, including meeting rooms and play areas, will remain closed.
“When people think of the library, they usually think of books, which is a good thing,” Chamberlain said. “But it’s also a place of community congregation. We’ve always encouraged people to come in and read and play. We miss seeing people… but we appreciate the community support.”