Royal Oak Public Library adapts to meet community’s needs

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published August 25, 2020

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ROYAL OAK — As local libraries evolved to become much more than a place to check out books, COVID-19 forced them to once again evaluate their service models.

On March 13, the Royal Oak Public Library closed its building in response to the global pandemic.

“It really forced us to rethink everything we thought we knew about library services, because we had to move to a completely online format,” Royal Oak Public Library Director Emily Dumas said. “The first problem we tackled on that very day was, ‘How are we going to still provide access to library cards?’”

Dumas said the library pivoted to allow Royal Oak residents, students and those employed at Royal Oak businesses the ability to sign up for library cards online. Those eligible for a library card could sign up for a free temporary library card number or to receive a permanent library card in the mail.

“From there, you’ll have access to not only contactless pickup, but all of our downloadable materials too,” Dumas said. “That was another challenge we faced at first. When we closed the library, we weren’t able to provide physical materials to the public anymore, so we knew we really had to up our digital services.”

She said the library added thousands of titles to digital platforms accessible by patrons for free, including downloadable e-books, audiobooks and magazines. The library also began offering free educational and training courses through LinkedIn Learning, as well as full access to genealogy site ancestry.com, the New York Times and tutor.com.

“Schools closed and at that time we thought maybe it would be for a few weeks, but it obviously lasted a lot longer than that, so we really had to increase our resources for home-schooling families,” Dumas said.

The Royal Oak Public Library also curated digital collections on multiple platforms for different age groups, ranging from early learning to teenagers, she said.

The library has moved from phase one, where all services were provided online; to phase two, where staff reported back to prepare to resume services; to the current phase three in June, where patrons can engage in contactless pickup, although the building remains closed to the public.

Currently, anyone with a library card can place holds on materials and schedule an appointment for contactless pickup. Patrons will arrive at the designated 11 Mile Road entrance at the allotted time window and pick up their bag of ordered materials from a table.

Dumas said the library also expanded its contactless pickup service to include its free seed library, and that the seed library is open to anyone, including those who don’t have library cards. To order from the seed library, visit ropl.org.

“Another huge challenge for us was to rethink how we did our programming,” Dumas said. “Our library is known for a great lineup of programming, which we now offer completely virtually.”

She said she was proud of the amount of online programming that staff was able to accomplish in a short period of time, including the summer reading program for all ages that recently concluded. Virtual programs included crafting, cooking, book clubs, magicians and animal education.

“We are finishing up our fall programming lineup, so stay tuned for that,” Dumas said.

Thanks to a beneficiary, Dumas added that the library is working on digitizing all issues of the Daily Tribune since its start in 1877. She is also currently in the process of curating a special collection called the Library of Things, which she expected to be available in the coming months.

“It allows patrons to check out objects like household gadgets, gardening tools, telescopes, electronics or toys — things people want to try before they buy but don’t want to commit to buying now,” she said.

Royal Oak Public Library Board of Trustees Vice President Brandon Kolo said the library’s six-phase approach mirrors the reopening phases put in place by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Dumas said the curbside pickup is popular, with patrons constantly coming and going during library hours.

On Aug. 20, Royal Oak resident Matt Schroeder took advantage of the library’s curbside pickup. He said his family, which includes an 11th grader, a ninth grader and a sixth grader who are all avid readers, goes through approximately 10 books a week.

“We did some electronic books for a while because we could still download those from the library, but we’ve been very happy that they’ve opened the actual paper books back up to be picked up,” Schroeder said. “(Curbside pickup) is super easy. The only thing I don’t like about it is you can’t browse the books in the library to find something you like, so you have to do it through the electronic catalogue, and I find that a little more difficult.”

The next step is phase four, in which the library would open to the public for a limited period of time and in limited capacity, as determined by state guidelines. The library will transition to phase four when the state moves to phase five — the state is currently in phase four.

Phase five would allow for the public to be in the building with socially distanced services. Furniture and computers would be spaced apart, and meeting and study rooms would be closed.

Phase six would allow for a return to full services available before COVID-19.

Kolo said all fines are suspended, user accounts are unlocked and material due dates have been pushed back to Sept. 30.

He added that the library’s plans to update the interior were delayed, but will soon move forward to retrofit the building for a post-COVID-19 world. Some improvements include new furniture, paint, carpeting, flooring and a revamping of the teen area.

Dumas said the library has purchased approximately 100 laptops and hot spots, so those who rely on the library for internet access can continue to do so.

When the library reopens to admit the public, Dumas said, the library will employ a greeter to familiarize patrons with library policies, offer a face mask if needed and distribute markers — possibly wristbands or bookmarks — to establish group time limits.

“In this era, a lot of folks have raised the white flag, but in your case, you raised the battle flag and charged ahead to make sure that in these most challenging times, the library is a leader and a place where people can find comfort and normalcy, even though it’s a new normal,” Royal Oak Mayor Michael Fournier said during the Aug. 10 Royal Oak City Commission meeting. “We couldn’t be more proud.”

The Royal Oak Public Library is located at 222 E. 11 Mile Road, east of Main Street.

For more information, visit ropl.org or call (248) 246-3700.

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