Thanks to Flagler County Public Library Director Holly Albanese and her staff of more than a dozen, the libraries on Palm Coast Parkway and in Bunnell continued to operate even after shutting their doors to the public in mid-March as a result of the coronavirus emergency, doing brisk business with curbside service. Patrons took to looking up their needs online, phoning them in, and picking up their materials at the library door, and the library found a new way to fill an important need at a time of very limited or non-existent social, cultural and entertainment activities beyond people’s own homes.
The library was checking out almost 900 items a day, taking 600 drop-offs a day, and seeing some 200 holds placed on materials each day by patrons. That’s half the normal activity, when the library is open, but still a considerable amount, given the limitations, and a reflection of how quickly both the library staff adapted and patrons’ needs found a still-willing outlet.
All that came to an end Tuesday, at least at the Palm Coast branch, as three of Albanese’s 16 staffers developed Covid-19-like symptoms. The county stopped all services, the three staffers were tested for Covid-19, as were possibly some of their contacts through the Department of Health’s contact tracing (to determine the extent of their interactions and, thereby, potential additional infections), and they were required to self-isolate for 14 days. Not all employees were working at the Palm Coast or Bunnell branch: Two of the library system’s employees had been assigned to the county office to help out with other duties there.
“Not all the staff are experiencing symptoms, and it’s not to say they have it,” Albanese said, “but as they say, out of an abundance of caution, if we have it we don’t want to expose the public.” Albanese said the three staffers “are in good spirits. They are concerned, not necessarily for themselves, but for others.” She added: “There is no indication where, if they are positive, where it would’ve come from.”
In the early days of the pandemic in Florida, the virus was often traced to an explicable origin such as recent travel to Asia or Italy, or vacation on a cruise. But in more recent days, so-called “community spread” has been more prevalent, and more concerning to public health officials, because once community spread begins, it is much more difficult to contain unless residents respect strict social distancing rules. Even then, because the virus is new and not yet fully understood, how it spreads is not always known, especially as more recent research points to a lot of potential spread through asymptomatic carriers.
Flagler County as of midday today had 17 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with just 200 tests taken. Florida had 6,338 cases, with 61,000 tests taken, and 77 deaths attributed to the disease.
All local governments have closed their buildings to the public, restricting access to essential workers and services, though at most levels of government, the public has continued to have access to services through curbsides. That’s been the case at the Government Services Building in Bunnell, where the tax collector, the property appraiser, the elections supervisor and the county administration have continued to provide customer service in various ways, encouraging residents to call first to learn whether the service they need must be carried out immediately, or whether it can wait.
The Bunnell branch of the public library will continue to operate on a curbside-service status, Albanese said, since the employee there has not had contact with any of the employees at the Palm Coast branch. The Palm Coast branch is shut down “until further notice.”
But even then, it’s not actually completely shut down. Albanese had just secured a new service for the library called Hoopla, whose tagline is: “Your public library at your fingertips. Anytime. Anywhere.” And so it is: patrons with a library card and a pin number may still access library resources, whether to read books, listen to audio books or watch movies, in numbers possibly much higher than they had access to at the library itself. The level of service secured through the Flagler library will not give access to the newest titles and movies: that would have been too expensive at the moment. But it still opens up a vast library, with streaming capabilities.
For those who do not have a library card, they can still secure one by phone through the Bunnell branch (437-7390) during regular business hours.
Since the Palm Coast branch has closed, Albanese is asking all patrons to hold on to their library materials and not drop them off at the drop-off bin, which is not being serviced for now. All late fees are being waived, so there’s no danger of accuring any, and for many of those materials, auto-renewal may apply.
Albanese said that if the employees’ tests return all negative, it is possible the library will resume its curbside service. But it isn;t clear when the test results will be known.
Meanwhile, the Public Library Association, a division of the American Library Association, is holding a series of accessible online seminars on how libraries can adapt remote services to the Coviod-19 emergency. When the webinars are full, the recordings are subsequently available to watch, free of charge.