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Libraries and COVID-19

By Michael Martin • May 28, 2020

Libraries have always done incredible work at pivoting around the edges to remain the best resource their unique communities need. They have adapted from card catalogs and story time to offering things like computers, 3D printers, and even virtual job training! Today, libraries are facing one of their biggest challenges ever—how to serve their communities in the midst of unexpected closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of these changes goes beyond just foot traffic to the library.

Stay-At-Home Effects

Each state has handled stay at home orders differently, however, overall most libraries across the country were forced to close their doors to the public in Mid-March. While some remained open over the phone for limited services, for the majority a strong pillar of the community was removed overnight.

Parents lost a safe space to take their children to learn. Children lost a wonderland to let their imaginations soar. Students lost access to tools that were vital to furthering their education. Adults lost a source of media for themselves and their families. Librarians lost the interactions that drive them and fulfill their inner calls to service. While necessary, it was a decision that resonated deeply throughout every community.

The emotional cost is only one part of the effects. There is also the business and statistics side of the coin. A metric that helps libraries fight for funding during budget season are the number of people through the door and the number of resources used. Without patrons coming through the doors, circulation of books and use of materials have plummeted. State Library Associations everywhere are raising awareness with the general public about this and the need for funding.

Library Funding

The majority of a library’s funding comes from their government budgets. In their quest to be the strongest community resource they can be, most libraries have additional support directly from their communities. Friends Groups and Foundations made up of community members help coordinate book sales, lunches, dinners (even galas!), summer reading programs, author readings, and so much more with the aim of raising as much money as possible.

These funds help with projects like remodeling or additions, purchasing resources like computer hardware, software, learning tools, and so much more.

This is where a certain aspect of the pandemic hits especially hard. Friends groups are generally made of up of older community members who need to be particularly cautious when it comes to social distancing and even quarantining.

While Friends groups and foundations move forward, like the libraries they support they will need to adapt and grapple with the hurdle of fewer active members. The side effects of fewer members can mean fewer events, meaning less funds raised to help support the library and community.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

The picture might appear a bit discouraging but have hope! Librarians are a creative and resilient group. For instance, during the Stay-At-Home orders, some libraries have instituted drive-up services. Patrons can call or email in and request books. They then drive to the library, stay in their cars, and librarians utilizing recommended safety precautions bring books out to them.

Beyond that, libraries are doing everything they can to clean, sanitize, and implement the facility modifications necessary so that when the time comes to re-open their doors, they are prepared.

From speaking with some of the libraries we work with, we know many have updated processes for sanitizing books, computers, common areas, and more that will help patrons feel confident they are entering a safe place. Social distancing guidelines and policies will help keep people in comfortable environments as they use computers, peruse the aisles, utilize educational resources, as well as any other of the many offerings at the library.

How You Can Help

It won’t be long now until we all regain access to one of our favorite places within our communities! Here are some ideas on what each of us can do to help in the short term as well as the long term.

  • Donate! When your library and friends’ groups are able to receive donations again, contact them about the process for donating. You will be helping to grow their collection or providing them materials they can pass on within the community and make a little money on.
  • Call your local library to see if they are offering limited services. If they are, check out a few books and help with the circulation numbers.
  • Volunteer! Your library or Friends’ group will have ideas and tasks they would be thrilled to have help with!
  • Finally, you can help support libraries right here on ThriftBooks by buying books marked Ex-Library. A portion of the revenue is sent to the libraries and friends’ groups that supplied those books, and will help fund their different projects and services!

You can learn more about our library program here. If you are a part of a library and think your library would like to get involved, please reach out to us at

For more on libraries, check out the other blog in our Library series, The Importance of Libraries, and some of our favorite library themed reads below:

April 2022 Update from The Library Team:

At ThriftBooks we often say that we work for libraries, and that remains true to this day, which is why we are so excited to say that since the original publishing of this article in 2020, libraries and related events are starting to open back up to the public post-pandemic! Recently, we had the pleasure of attending the Public Library Association conference in Portland, Oregon. Seeing volunteers, librarians, and other literary supporters come out for the first time in what feels like forever to show their love for literacy has only reaffirmed the importance of these partnerships not only to us, but to the entire book-loving community. We shared with attendees the different ways ThriftBooks can help libraries handle the influx of donations received over the past two years while also generate funding, as well as shared information on our Library Partnership program. We left the conference more grateful than ever that we can work for and with those who believe books bring people together.

Be sure to keep an eye out for our logo at your next local book conference, we would love to chat with you!

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