Along with books, DVDs, magazine and other items, local libraries are putting collection fees on hold.
Trustees with the North Olympic Library System agreed last week to suspend collection of fees from materials deemed lost for the remainder of the year.
“The staff has a lot to do already,” Jennifer Pelikan, NOLS Board of Trustees chair, said before the unanimous (4-0) vote on Aug. 27.
“I would much rather have them spend their time on that than taking money from people.”
Library Director Noah Glaude said collection of fess from unreturned materials were shut down — along with all other library services — in mid-March as state and local health officials began to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
In late August, overdue notices began to go out to patrons who had materials checked out prior to the March 17 shutdown, Glaude said.
“We have seen quite an uptick in return in the last week,” Glaude said at the Aug. 27 meeting held on Zoom.
Typically patrons receive a bill through the mail 21 days after after an item is deemed overdue, but generally that notice is designed to encourage the patron to return the item, Glaude said.
“We just want our books back so the next patron can check them out,” he said.
Twenty-one days after the paper bill is sent, a collection agency that NOLS has a contract with begins attempting to secure funds owed. The agency collects $10 from each item, Glaude said.
“Ten dollars isn’t necessarily a lot but it can make a big difference in our patron’s life,” he said.
With the stress and unease surrounding COVID-19, Glaude said library officials expect more issues regarding unreturned materials. NOLS normally sees about 8-10 items per month necessitate collection bills in the past year, he said.
Glaude originally asked the board of trustees to suspend any fee collections through the month of September, but board members agreed to suspend the collection process for the remainder of 2020.
“All we want to do is get the materials back,” Glaude said.
New normal, changes coming to libraries
Last week, Glaude detailed the various changes the peninsula’s libraries in Sequim, Port Angeles, Forks and Clallam Bay have made since the mid-March shutdown, including curbside service that started in June and, in July, NOLS began offering “grab bags” that feature staff-selected materials in patron-selected genres.
Influxes of new materials have kept coming in, he said, but noted, “we’re able to move a lot of that through the grab bags.”
Glaude said NOLS is looking at providing curbside printing services as well. The printing —for items such as job applications or copies of one’s insurance card — would probably be offered for free with a monthly cap, as NOLS staff is not looking to handle money during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also said the library system is looking into checking out laptops on an hourly use basis.
“We know there’s a great need out there for computer and internet access,” Glaude told trustees.
Outreach to the Homebound, a NOLS programs that sees staff deliver materials to those who are unable to access the library (when open) or curbside service, should start up again soon, Glaude said, with staffers leaving items on doorsteps in order to maintain physical distancing.
Inter-library loans should start up once again soon, he said.
NOLS will also be adding picnic tables at each branch, Glaude noted.
The peninsula’s libraries are unable to accept donations at this point, however, based on safety protocols, Glaude said.
“I don’t think anyone is expecting Clallam County to be in Phase 3 any time soon (but we’re) trying to be responsive during these times.” he said. “It’s not been normal in any sense.”
While patrons are not able to access library buildings, staff are making some changes in preparation for their eventual re-openings to accommodate physical distancing guidelines, Glaude said. That means some shifting of furniture where possible. In Port Angeles’ 25,000-square-foot main building, that means closing off a few alcoves, but in the heavily-used 6,000-square-foot Sequim Library it’s a challenge, he said.
“I don’t think anyone is expecting Clallam County to be in Phase 3 any time soon (but we’re) trying to be responsive during these times,” he said.
“What used to be nice and cozy is not a good thing anymore.”