How COVID-19 Changes Your Library Experience

At the King County Library System (KCLS) we strive to offer patrons the best possible customer experience. We’ve had to make adjustments per the Governor’s Stay Home Stay Safe order and Public Health guidelines. These adjustments have impacted how we offer services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fewer staff are working in buildings. Libraries are open fewer days a week, for shorter hours. Safety guidelines slow down our standard processing speed. We would like to thank you for your patience as we adapt to this new normal. We would also like to share in greater detail some of the reasons why your experience is different now.

Staffing and Hours

Not all our staff can safely return to work now. We currently have fewer staff working in our libraries and the shipping department. New hours of operation are based on the number of staff who can safely work in each location.

We are currently open from Tuesday to Saturday at locations offering curbside service. This decision was made so that we can offer consistent hours system-wide. Doing so helps to eliminate confusion for patrons and staff. 

Being closed on Mondays offers some necessary advantages. It allows vendors, shipping, facilities, and IT staff to complete important work. They use this time to make building repairs, technology upgrades, and deliveries.

Safety

We have new safety practices in line with Public Health guidelines:

  • Screening employees before entry.
  • Wearing face masks.
  • Maintaining six feet distance between staff.
  • Quarantining items for 72 hours after their return.

In determining how long to quarantine items, we’ve used data from the REALM project. The project studies the length of time the virus survives on library materials. We continue to review data to make informed decisions to protect staff and patrons. Read more about the research, opens a new window.

Even with safety protocols, we may need to close some libraries when staff cases are reported. During closures, buildings are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. We do our best to minimize any delays in service but these closures may cause delays.

Returns

Right now, we are only accepting returns through the manual book drop. We're not able to accept returns handed to staff in-person or through self-check-in. The automated self-check-in system doesn’t meet current safety guidelines. It does not allow us to keep items safe and clean. Since it works on a belt loop system any materials placed on it could contaminate other items.

You may occasionally encounter a closed book drop that you expect to be open. Book drops need to be closed when staff cannot be in the buildings. After items are returned through the manual book drop, they go into bins. These items are quarantined for at least three days before being checked in. Staff needs to be present to switch out the bins when they get full. This prevents the return slot from getting backed up or blocked. When we run out of bins and space, staff also need to close the book drops.

You may notice items remain on your account after they have been returned. It will take at least three days before we can start checking in your returned items. It may take longer. Here’s an example that demonstrates why:

  • Most libraries are open on a Tuesday-Saturday schedule. If you return items on Saturday night, staff won’t begin processing those items until Tuesday.
  • There’s no way of knowing when you returned your items, so we must assume they were returned as recently as Monday.
  • Staff then label the bins filled with items that were returned while the library was closed. Then, the 72-hour quarantine begins.
  • This means that an item returned on Saturday will take at least six days to be checked in.

When we receive an overwhelming number of returns, it may take even longer. Please know that you do not need to worry about late fees. We will not charge overdue fines through December 31, 2020. We still ask that you please return your items when they are due. Other patrons may have a hold on the item you’re returning.

There is one special kind of item that we ask you to keep for now: oversized materials, like the Books to Grow On Kits. These kits do not fit in standard book returns. For safety reasons, we are unable to accept direct hand-offs of items like these, from patron to staff. Due dates have been extended for Books to Grow On Kits until December 31, 2020.

Holds

When an item you have requested travels from one library location to the next, its status is “in transit.” When the item arrives at your pick-up location, it is then checked in. The same factors that slow down the check-in process for returns also impacts your holds.

The large volume of holds has also resulted in backlogs at some locations. 

For all these reasons, your hold may be “in transit” for up to two weeks. We appreciate your patience as we work to overcome these challenges.

Scheduling Curbside Pick-up Appointments

You may wonder why you need to schedule an appointment to pick up holds. Scheduling your appointment helps keep staff and other patrons safe. With an appointment, you can quickly walk up, pick up your bag of items, and walk away. Designated time slots limit the number of people gathering at the library at the same time. You may use the myLIBRO app to make an appointment, or if you prefer, the website.

Customer Service

Need to talk to library staff? For your safety and ours, please respect the following rules when walking up to a library:

  • Stay behind the six-foot cone.
  • Keep conversations short.

We value your privacy, and we don’t want you to have to share your personal details by speaking loudly in public. If you need help with your account, you can call our Ask KCLS team. Phone lines are open daily from 12-5pm. They are also available by email and chat. Visit our Ask KCLS page for more details.

Volunteer Opportunities

We appreciate your interest in helping the library. For safety reasons, we are not allowing the public or volunteers in our buildings right now. The best way to help us help you is to follow all health guidelines. 

Reopening Buildings

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee recently announced new safety guidelines for libraries. This will allow libraries to open indoor spaces at 25% capacity.

We are working on our plans and protocols to accommodate this recent change. The health and safety of our staff and visitors is our top priority as we develop our reopening plans. Some of our libraries will offer limited access to technology and services inside buildings. Physical distancing and health protocols will remain in place. Curbside to Go and online services and programming will continue through all phases. More details and dates will be announced when plans are finalized.