COVID Chronicles: A Librarian in a High-Need Area Doing Curbside Pickup
Washington Park libarian Amy Rosa and her colleagues are making sure neighborhood families still have access to books.
Librarians are a special breed. They rise to meet the needs of their communities, whether their patrons require extra toddler times, ESL courses, writing workshops or a hearty supply of James Patterson. Pandemics are no different.
In mid-March, libraries across the state shuttered their doors to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. But the Providence Community Library (PCL) network knew their services — like those of other front line workers — were, without question, essential in the neighborhoods they serve. If their patrons couldn’t get to the books, they would find a way to get books to their patrons.
We caught up with Amy Rosa, a librarian at Washington Park Library on Providence’s south side, to learn more about PCL’s curbside pickup program and new digital initiatives.
Rhode Island Monthly: So, first off, why did PCL decide to launch this curbside program?
Amy Rosa: Well from day one of library closure, we were all very concerned about our library kids that may not have access to Internet or physical books at home so we were constantly trying to figure out ways to help them foster their education, creativity and overall mental well-being. So when Governor Raimondo announced her April reading challenge, the library was more than happy to be able to help support this initiative [by] figuring out a way to have a contactless and safe curbside library program.
RIM: How do folks take advantage of it?
A.R.: This program is offered every Tuesday and Friday at four Providence Community Library locations: Rochambeau, Mount Pleasant, Knight Memorial and Washington Park, my library. Patrons can call one of the four locations between the hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and request books and pick a timeslot for pickup.
RIM: What do kids seem to be choosing? Is it strictly books or are you loaning other materials?
A.R.: I’ve had kids in first grade picking dinosaur books and Paw Patrol, to upper elementary picks like Ramona the Great and How to Train Your Dragon to teen picks like the Ranger’s Apprentice and manga favorites like Tokyo Mew Mew. We also have been loaning other materials like DVDs, adult fiction and non-fiction, Spanish materials and occasionally helping people out with printing services. Basically if we have it on the shelf, we can check it out on your library card and add it to your bag for pickup.
RIM: Are you seeing any trends with adult readers?
A.R.: Lots of inspirational books such as my pick, You Are a Badass, cookbooks such Mediterranean Instant Pot, mysteries like the ones by Tana French and James Patterson, and lots of classics such as Farewell to Arms and Howard’s End.
RIM: I’m reading Love in the Time of Cholera for the umpteenth time. Feels appropriate but also comforting, in a way. Do you see that happening — people choosing books that might be a source of comfort? Are you surprised by reader choices or by how people are responding to the service in general?
A.R.: Yeah, I would definitely say people are taking this downtime to enjoy books they have always wanted to read, longtime favorites or taking up new hobbies. I’m not usually surprised by readers choices. We see it all at the library. I’m very excited that some people have to decided to delve into some good old classics — especially being an English major myself.
People have been mostly very overjoyed and thankful for the curbside service. And I’m not surprised by that. I knew our communities, especially the families, needed our support and help. One patron called us “frontline educational service providers.”
RIM: It’s definitely not easy for families, which is why your work is so important. How are you keeping yourself safe in the process?
A.R.: The whole process is completely contactless. All PCL staff wears masks as is required by the state. All stations and the library is cleaned daily and staff is kept ten feet apart from one another. When the patron arrives, they call the library and we then run the materials out to their car and ask them to remain in the car until we get back inside the building. If they are walking over, we have X spots on the sidewalk and we put the bag outside the library door and they can pick it up after we go back in. The process has been working extremely well.
Also thank you! I also feel our work is so important and impactful. It fills my heart every day knowing the service I provided that week for all those people. And I feel like we are giving a glimpse of hope that the world will get back to normal. People need that uplifting thought right now.
RIM: You’re also offering some resources through YouTube, right?
A.R.: Oh yes! Our YouTube channel is absolutely amazing! The whole staff has come together and quickly adapted to this new virtual world of programming, sharing our talents, creativity and support to our patrons. We have everything from story times to crafts to daily readings to coloring club and art programs to baking bread and model airplanes. Oh and indoor gardening — how to make a raised bed, that’s a hot topic! I think our three most popular videos were that gardening one, how to make a calm jar with glitter and water and American Sign Language story time.
RIM: There are so many videos on here. I’m still scrolling.
A.R.: Yes, we’ve been busy!
RIM: It seems like you all really jumped into action.
A.R.: Librarians are really good at that! And honestly it always helps to have a strong, supportive and encouraging leader to guide us through difficult times.
RIM: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask for book recommendations. Anything new or beloved for children, YA or adult readers that we should consider?
A.R.: Kids Reading Across RI just announced their 2020 pick, which is called Changeling by William Ritter. It’s about goblins, changelings, wild woods and two brave boys discovering who they are.
The author of the Hunger Games is coming out with a new book in a couple of weeks called The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. I’m sure that will be a big hit with the teens. I can’t wait for that one myself.
I personally read a lot of science fiction, fantasy, horror and also nonfiction. I’m excited to read Stephen King’s newest book called If It Bleeds and also Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. That one might be appropriate after all this ends. My daughters are big into Junie B. Jones, Fancy Nancy and Pete the Cat. Always some good choices there.
For more information on Providence Community Library’s curbside pickup program, contact Rochambeau Library (708 Hope St., 401-272-3780); Mt. Pleasant Library (315 Academy Ave.; 401-272-0106); Knight Memorial Library (275 Elmwood Ave.; 401-467-2625) and Washington Park Library (1316 Broad St.; 401-781-3136) on Tuesdays and Fridays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m or visit provcomlib.org.