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New Castle County libraries launch curbside pickup program

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Readers, rejoice! New Castle County libraries are again open – in a limited capacity, at least.

On Tuesday, libraries across the county began offering curbside service. Patrons can request books, DVDs and other materials online or by phone, drive to the library, and a librarian will deliver the materials to the patron’s car.

“It’s great to have that connection with our patrons again,” Pat Birchenall, manager of the Newark Free Library, said. “They, in turn, are excited to be able to get materials.”

Libraries have been closed since mid-March due to the pandemic, and while they continued their online offerings for e-books, many people missed the ability to actually check out books, County Executive Matt Meyer said.

“One of the hardest things I’ve had to do as county executive was closing our libraries,” Meyer said. “I don’t know if there’s any county executive in history for as long as New Castle libraries have existed who’s had to close the libraries for the extended period of time that we’ve had to do.”

The library buildings remain closed to the public, but the curbside pickup is designed as a way to allow people to check out books safely, he said.

“It’s just another way that we in New Castle County government are trying to think creatively to keep people safe and keep society operating during this time, and of course, to keep you reading,” Meyer said. “So, moms and dads out there, there’s no excuse. If your daughter or son says that they don’t have a book to read, we’ve got millions of titles here for you.”

He said he hopes the buildings can reopen to the public soon but declined to give a timetable.

“We’re monitoring the public health data very closely,” he said. “We’re not going to jump the gun and we’re not going to put people in danger.”

While the libraries have been closed, a limited number of employees have been working throughout the shutdown, ordering new materials, conducting inventory and completing other tasks, Birchenall said.

The county did not furlough any of its workers, who have been paid throughout the pandemic even if they were not reporting to work every day, according to Meyer.

Like many of the libraries, the Newark Free Library began producing virtual programming, like regular story times that are filmed and posted on YouTube. The libraries also rolled out new digital databases and other online services, including a popular service called Creativebug, which provides free arts and crafts lessons online.

However, that didn’t stop the demand for physical books, as evidenced by the steady stream of people pulling into the Newark Free Library parking lot to pick up their books on Tuesday morning.

Just at Newark alone, there is a backlog of more than 1,000 books that were placed on hold over the past three months. Birchenall said library staff has begun calling those people to set up times for them to pick up their order.

Meanwhile, other people can now reserve books and other materials through the online catalog at dlc.lib.de.us. Those uncomfortable using a computer can call the library at 302-731-7550, and a librarian will assist them with finding and reserving a book.

All county libraries are offering the curbside service from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays. Starting next week, the hours will expand to 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays.

“It’s fabulous,” said Judy Taggart, president of the Friends of the Newark Free Library. “It’s quite a good service and quite convenient. The more people you get to use the library is great.”

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