This past spring, Madison Public Libraries had to shut down their inter-library delivery service because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Madisonians had come to rely on the system for retrieving specific books, movies and other media they wanted, whether or not it was housed in their favorite library.
“People were really used to a robust system of placing holds online or over the phone, and having those materials shipped to whatever library the customer wanted to go to,” said Tana Elias, digital services and marketing manager for Madison Public Library.
That access to media stopped overnight. Customers were suddenly limited to whatever was available in each particular library. For a second grader hooked on chapbooks, there were fewer options.
Enter the Librarian’s Choice system. Now, readers can fill out a form online or call a hotline and answer questions to guide a librarian to pick books for them. For kids, the questions include reading level, favorites and preferred formats. The librarian then puts together a package of their picks, places the items in a donated bag from Kwik Trip and sets a time for curbside pickup. It's like a community supported agriculture box of pre-chosen vegetables, but for books.
“People can call in, give us a little bit about what they're looking for and then we will choose based on what we have on the shelf in a particular library at any given time," Elias said.
Elias called this “a secret service, but one that people used to expect when they came into the library. ‘I have a fourth grader who really loves to read about history, what can you recommend to me?’
“It's really kind of bringing back that traditional library service of recommending good books based on the age and interest,” she added.
Libraries receive an average of 48 online requests a week and more over the phone. They have also received comments almost daily from happy readers.
Curbside pickup orders in general have increased weekly across all libraries. The average was about 3,400 appointments in July.
This system is further localizing the library system in a post-COVID world.
“We had to make sure that we were using the resources that we have in our particular library instead of relying on the bigger collective library,” Elias said.
As one reader put it, "I'm looking forward to this way more than picking out my own books."
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