By Nick Parker
After months of planning, the Chapel Hill Public Library launched its new curbside pickup program June 15. Now, three weeks into the program, the library is providing thousands of book lovers with the works they desire.
“We’re seeing people from throughout the community coming,” said Meeghan Rosen, the library’s assistant director. “People of all ages. People in cars, people on foot, families, solos, we’re seeing everybody.”
Rosen added that the library is serving between three and four hundred vehicles a day, in addition to those customers arriving by foot or bike.
The curbside program, put into place because the library is closed during the coronavirus pandemic, is available from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Wednesday and Sunday. Anyone with a Chapel Hill Public Library card can use the service and those who don’t yet have one can open a free account on the library’s website. Students and staff in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district automatically receive an account at the start of every school year, even if they haven’t registered individually.
“We’ve allowed anybody who has an account to go to the library’s website and place a hold on the library’s collections, up to 10 items,” said Rosen. “Then we go about collecting those ten things.”
Once the books are collected, they’re sanitized and quarantined for 24 hours. When they’re ready, a notification is sent to the library member who ordered them.
The patron then can pull up to one of six tents, each with a table, at the library front entrance. When members arrive there, they call inside, and within minutes a staff member can bring out their books and place them on the appropriate table under the tent.
“We have a whole assembly line of staff members working to open your account, identify the things you have read, collect them and take them outside and place them on the table for you,” Rosen explained. “Inside, we’re all wearing PPE and social distancing. It takes a lot of people to do something that used to be simple for just one person to do.”
Tanya Tremel, an autism support specialist at CHCCS and a library member, used the service in its first week and noted how easy it was.
“When I drove up it was kind of crowded,” Tremel said. “At first I thought, ‘Are you kidding me? I picked the one time it’s super busy.’ But it went pretty quickly, it couldn’t have been more than ten minutes.”
As a sign of the program’s popularity, on some days, the line of cars waiting to get to a table stretches most of the way down Library Drive, almost to Estes Drive. But the wait is obviously worth it for the book lovers.
Tremel was similarly positive about the safety of the entire operation. “I went not nervous about it, and then having seen it, I saw no risks at all,” she said.
Getting the library into a position where it could offer a large-scale curbside pickup program took nearly three months of planning. Almost as soon as the library closed on March 13, staff began brainstorming new ways to safely serve the community.
“One of our core services to the community is circulating library materials,” said Rosen. While offering digital copies of books provided some relief, it still didn’t meet all the needs of the traditional physical side of library lending.
After submitting a proposal to the Town of Chapel Hill, the library developed a pilot program. It was limited exclusively to existing library card holders who already had holds on books at the time of the closure. Initially, people were welcomed to pick a specific time to enter the library and pick up their books from inside.
“That worked really well,” said Rosen, “But it took us a really long time to satisfy all those holds.”