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One of the rallying cries during the last 21 months has been “working from home.” While communities have been divided over vaccines, masks and travel restrictions, few have questioned the value of working from home, when possible. It has been an important factor in keeping the wheels of the economy turning, saving jobs and controlling the spread of COVID-19.

During these same 21 months, a phenomenon that has seen rapid increase is “librarying from home.” Apologies to purists and grammarians who object to my using “library” as a verb, but what better way to describe using library services without having to physically enter the building?

When libraries across the country started to shut down in March 2020, librarians began to strategize over ways to best serve their communities. While some academic and special libraries may have “closed stacks,” where you have to request an item to use it, public libraries thrive on providing open and easy access. The pandemic turned this basic expectation on its head.

Hayward Public Library opened its new 58,000-square-foot downtown library in September 2019. Six months later, the pandemic forced the library to close its doors. (Photo courtesy Hayward Public Library)

Some simple solutions like curbside pickup were obvious until people could reenter the buildings, but libraries felt they needed to do much more. Most began to not only seek new delivery methods but also to reevaluate programs already in place.

At Hayward Public Library, we immediately started expanding our e-collections and launched a variety of virtual and online programs. The very first day after the shutdown, we instituted an e-card system allowing patrons to get library cards via email, and get immediate and 24/7 access to our databases, e-books and streamed movies and music.

Taking library services to people where they are has long been a goal of libraries. Beginning well before the advent of the internet, “librarying from home” was facilitated by mobile services that date back to at least the 1850s. Librarians like Anne Hadden of Monterey County would travel for two weeks at a time across rugged terrain, often on burro, horseback or foot, to reach the library’s users. Fortunately, mobile outreach is a lot easier these days, but still serves a critical need in both rural and urban areas. Recognizing this critical need, Hayward recently launched its first bookmobile, Curbie: Your Curbside Library, to serve the community where people live, work or go to school.

Bookmobiles, of course, are more than just a delivery service these days. Curbie will also provide interactive programming and story times as well as being fully Wi-Fi enabled so people can use their own devices to connect to the internet. Don’t have your own device? Hayward Public Library even lends out tablets and hotspots.

But Hayward is not the only city that offers librarying-from-home options. In addition to online library services that are increasingly ubiquitous, innovative bookmobiles like Oakland’s MOVe (Mobile Outreach Vehicle), which includes a maker space, are common. Many libraries deliver physical materials through the mail or by partnering with organizations like Meals on Wheels, and some even have little branchlets or the birdhouse-style Little Free Libraries right by people’s homes.

Libraries constantly anticipate and evolve based on the needs of the public, and the recent shifts are no different. In the ’80s and ’90s, as computers and the internet were becoming as common as microwave ovens, people would often question the need for libraries. And like old broken records, librarians would respond, “Have you been in a library recently?” Nowadays, you may not see many people in the building and want to question the value of libraries, but we are busier than ever.

Librarying from home, like working from home, is not only wonderfully convenient, it offers other advantages. Expanding square footage or shelf space, is expensive and can never keep pace with growing communities. Increased online resources and outreach programs expand our ability to respond quickly and more affordably to growing demands.

Typically, Hayward creates approximately 50 new library cards a week but was able reach many new clients and issued over 550 new cards in the first week of bookmobile service! In addition, fewer vehicles driving to our two library locations is already projected to reduce emissions by an estimated 57 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents each year. That is comparable to completely taking 12 passenger vehicles off the road.

Data shows that despite the hardships of the pandemic, library users have responded positively to the convenience of increased access to services from home, and libraries have been investing in expanding their array of online and outreach offerings. Put simply, librarying from home is here to stay and will continue to grow. Watch for increasing innovations and exciting new services to be delivered right where you are.

Jayanti Addleman, Director of Library Services at Hayward Public Library (Photo courtesy Hayward Public Library)

Jayanti Addleman has been the Director of Library Services at Hayward since 2019 and had the privilege for overseeing the opening of the beautiful new 58,000-square-foot library in the heart of downtown.

Unfortunately, the building had to close six months later because of the pandemic, but Addleman credits her very innovative team for pivoting and continuing to successfully serve the community, including the very large body of students who used to depend on the 10 library-run Homework Support Centers for academic support.

Addleman has just completed her tenure as President of the California Library Association and is passionate about advocating for literacy and services to underserved communities. But, in the end, she says, her job is simply to help all community members reach their potential and pursue happiness.