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As public libraries in the region close due to concerns over the coronavirus, librarians are doing their best to keep up with the demand for digital materials like e-books and audiobooks.
On Tuesday alone, Watertown Free Public Library assistant director Caitlin Browne spent close to $10,000 on e-books and audiobooks. She says the library is trying to provide for their patrons while the library is closed to the public.
“We've basically just decided to throw a lot of our physical collection budget into the digital collection for now, since we don't really know what's going to happen," Browne said.
Without these efforts, Browne says the wait for some popular reads could be several months. Other town libraries, such as the Public Library of Brookline, has seen an increase of nearly 65% in e-book requests since closing on March 12.
Most libraries have also made a point of waiving late fees during this time, and have extended due dates. The top digital pick in Watertown is "Such a Fun Age" by Kiley Reid. The second book with the most holds is "Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed" by Lori Gottlieb.
There's a skeleton crew working in the building these days, Browne among them. As libraries have increasingly become community hubs for all types of services, it's quiet for a change as the staff tries to keep up with the daily tasks of maintaining their physical collection and sanitizing the furniture. There is also the question of what to do when books are eventually returned to make sure the coronavirus doesn't spread further.
"I don't know that we can disinfect every book that comes through, you know, I just don't know if that's realistic," Browne said honestly. "We don't have medical guidance on that."
Their main focus, for now, is access, which is why the digital collection is key along with referring patrons to free digital resources, such as museum exhibitions that are accessible online.
Browne has seen some libraries come up with unique solutions to the circumstances such as a storytime streamed via Facebook. She'd like them to explore using social media to make their usual activities available online.
"We're just doing the best that we can until things get back to normal," Brown said, "which I'm imagining will be a long time from now."
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