Kathy Rush


Although traffic has drastically slowed since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, traffic counts at Northfield Public Library have been higher than expected given the circumstances.

Within a two-week period in April, patrons checked out nearly 2,260 items from the library, including 784 people who checked out books. Staff has delivered books to people who didn’t want to leave their homes — especially home-bound patrons.

“They really appreciate that,” said Technology Circulation Services Manager Kathy Rush.

Despite higher-than-expected traffic counts, those statistics are still a drastic drop off from pre-COVID-19 levels. In a normal month, 25,000 items are checked out at the library. Rush said library staff members have also seen a sharp increase in the number of patrons downloading the streaming video and movie service Kanopy.

The library building has been closed since March as Gov. Tim Walz has shuttered non-essential businesses to combat the spread of the disease. Despite the closure, Northfield Public Library provides WiFi services outside the building so patrons can safely social distance while accessing the service.

Library staff is placing new requests via an online catalog or through receiving requests. Staff has been contacting patrons via phone to schedule pickup times.

Pickup is available from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Items must be picked up at the Washington Street entrance. Requested items are placed on a table, bagged and labeled with the person’s name. As the library remains closed, cards provide access to digital resources, including e-books and online databases.

Rush said work on the new system is much more staff-intensive. After collaborating the pickup, staff have a spreadsheet where they can schedule a particular number of pickups per hour.

The library book drop is open. All due dates have been extended, and overdue fines have been temporarily waived. Returned materials and items delivered from other locations are isolated as a precaution. Library staff wear appropriate PPE and follow safe handling procedures.

Library staff produced a special newsletter to quickly disseminate information to the community. Monthly bilingual newsletters are also produced.

Library Director Teresa Jensen said there’s been “great feedback” from patrons who’ve been picking up library materials.

To Jensen, the library is serving an information need during this time by supplying thousands of DVDs and books, as people are unable to get out much due to the pandemic.

The library is expected to open Tuesday and has made a number of changes to accommodate the opening. Plexiglass has been installed at desks, and the number of upstairs public computers has been decreased from 16 to seven. Library staff wear masks donated by community members. All toys have been removed from the children’s area, and comfortable seating is also no longer in place to remind people that their visits need to be limited.

As of Monday, no library employee had contracted COVID-19. Employees are encouraged to wash their hands and wear a mask.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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