CAPE VINCENT — The Cape Vincent Community Library continues to serve its patrons, and has developed a number of new ways to provide services while staying safe and socially distant.
In March, the library closed like every other nonessential business in New York state. But instead of simply waiting to reopen, library director Amy B. Pond said she and her team worked to expand digital offerings in order to reach patrons where they were — online.
“When the building shut down, we increased the book budget for downloadable books, because that was the only way patrons were able to get books at the beginning of the shutdown,” she said.
The library, located on North Real Street, also stepped up its social media strategy, using Facebook and Discord, a web-based chat service, to keep in touch with staff and patrons.
When June came, nonessential businesses were allowed to reopen, and the library began planning to provide physical services again. With the help of the United Way of Northern New York, they were able to get the cleaning supplies they needed to sanitize the building daily.
“The United Way was a huge help in letting us open,” Mrs. Pond said. “They helped us get the gloves and things that we were required to have to reopen, because supplies weren’t available in retail stores.”
Even with cleaning supplies on hand, Mrs. Pond said the library isn’t able to operate the way it did before the coronavirus pandemic shut them down. Patrons are now asked to order their books online and schedule a time to pick them up from a table outside the building. Those who need to use the copier, fax machine or computers inside can reserve a 30-minute time slot.
“They can have a half-hour appointment, one household at a time,” Mrs. Pond said.
Mrs. Pond said one of the most challenging obstacles to serving patrons during the pandemic has been internet access. Without the ability to peruse books in person, many people who lack internet access to view the catalog online are finding it difficult to get the books they want. That’s made communication difficult as well — if a patron doesn’t have internet access, they may not know the library has reopened.
“We did create posters and put them at the post office and in the bank windows for people to see that we were still offering services through our window or to call, and we can do things remotely,” Mrs. Pond said.
The library also purchased a new door with a service window built in for patrons who cannot order their books online, or need to visit the library in person, but aren’t comfortable entering the building.
Even without the usual stream of patrons visiting the library in person, Mrs. Pond said it’s been as busy as ever. The use of downloadable materials has increased dramatically, and patrons continue to check out physical materials at about the same rate as before the pandemic.
“Circulation numbers have remained very, very positive during COVID,” Mrs. Pond said. “Our numbers did not decrease much at all.”
She said many people checked out books on gardening and cooking over the summer, and fiction books have been popular as well.
“I think people were looking for things that they could do that they never were able to do before, like projects they were tackling,” Mrs. Pond said.
Mrs. Pond said the library continues to face new problems daily, from new COVID-related regulations to figuring out how to serve patrons best. They opted to suspend late fees so they weren’t adding any financial burdens onto people who may have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The library has also been quarantining returned materials for four days before reintroducing them back into the collection.
Mrs. Pond said the financial stresses of the pandemic have impacted the library as well. The costs of running the library are now higher, as they must purchase more cleaning supplies than before, and the usual summer fundraisers weren’t possible this year. The town of Cape Vincent also opted to rescind the $5,000 in annual support they offer the library during this year’s budget proceedings.
During a Nov. 5 budget meeting, Town Councilman Alan Wood said the town removed that funding because they believed the library closed long-term.
Mrs. Pond said the town suggested that the library find the necessary funding from another source. She said the library is planing to cut its book budget and programming costs to cover the gap until the next budget vote in May. She said, come May, the library will likely move to get more money from school taxes.
“That decision will have to be made, it isn’t decided on by our board yet, but that is the response we got from the town, they suggested we go the route of another funding source,” Mrs. Pond said.