San Diego County libraries adjust to the pandemic
A look into how the county libraries have adjusted under the pandemic.
May 5, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of our community. How we socialize, how we go to school, even how we enjoy meals at restaurants. However, one of the more overlooked aspects of the pandemic is its impact on public libraries.
The library has much more than just books. They run programs, host community activities, and provide vital, often completely free, services to community members. I sat down with a San Diego County library employee to get a better idea about how the library system has had to adjust its services to the public amid the pandemic.
It was a rocky beginning for the county library at the beginning of the pandemic. “We were closed from March 2020 through mid-June 2020,” said the library employee. “Since then, we have been either open for door-side pick-up or open to the public with a limited person capacity.”
This socially distanced management of the library system has proven to be a challenging change for many library employees, who have grown to love the hands-on nature of a library. “As a librarian, a big part of our job is to interact, ‘hands-on’ with the public, and as such, we all would like to return to a mode of operation that allows for this,” said the employee. Even if doorside pickup and limited capacity are not preferred, the library employee with whom I spoke acknowledges that it’s necessary for the time being.
In addition to the changes in how the library has had to function, many county library employees have not worked in their normal job settings throughout the pandemic. “County workers are, by default, state disaster workers, and therefore may be tasked to help in times of emergency,” said the library employee.
In the case of emergencies, such as fires, earthquakes, and even pandemics, library employees– who are employed by the county– may be reassigned to jobs outside of their jurisdiction. “Library staff has been helping during the pandemic at testing sites, in delivering PPE, in driving county support vehicles, in contact tracing, and other duties supporting the San Diego County Covid-19 response.”
Despite this radical change for the library workers who have been reassigned to help with pandemic relief efforts, some parts of the library still remain the same. Activities, services, and even educational programs are starting up again in the county libraries. “Currently, we are preparing to provide fun programs… in the upcoming months,” said the library employee. Some of these activities include several Summer Learning programs and partnering with the County Parks for various events.
The perception of the library as a resource has certainly shifted since the start of the pandemic. “We have experienced massive growth in the utilization of electronic resources in the past year, as schooling moved to an at-home status, and people were forced to stay home during the lockdown,” said the library employee. The library is far from just a place to get some books– “there is a large and ever-growing technical side to the job environment,” said the employee. “Libraries are varied workplaces, with many social and technical aspects occurring in real-time.”
The county library system is a dynamic and ever-changing institution by design, from educating, entertaining, and providing services to the community (pandemic or not). As for how their perception of the library has changed over the course of the pandemic, the library employee thinks it has demonstrated ”how important some of our institutions are and how we sometimes take them for granted,” said the employee. “This time has truly shown the meaning of the saying ‘You never know what you have until it’s gone!'”
While closed on the weekends, the county libraries are open for door-side pickup on Monday and Friday and are open to the public on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.