WOBURN - What does library service look like when a contagion is so virulent that it threatens public health and safety?

The City of Woburn is known for innovation, and the Woburn Public library is a fantastic example of that spirit. The Woburn Public Library has responded to COVID-19 with an action plan so bold that it’s become an undeniable silver lining to the city of readers that it serves.

When libraries began closing, unable to continue services with their current model, the Woburn Public Library pivoted immediately, and rolled out a Contactless Delivery service for city residents. For the low, low price of FREE, patrons can fill out a form with their reading preferences and can include titles on the Woburn Library’s shelves that they want delivered to their homes. From there, selections are customized to meet each individual person’s preferences and to spark some joy.

The result is a tailored and totally contactless experience for the patron.

With only a skeleton crew of administrative staff, the Woburn Public Library has been able to spread humor, goodwill, and a love of reading, one recycled wine box at a time (our hearty thanks to the local package stores who are helping us keep costs down).

Doesn’t this successful service run the risk of leaving the shelves bare? “Exactly! The books should be in people’s homes. We don’t buy them so we can admire them on the shelves of the library.” said Library Director Bonnie Roalsen. “The goal of any hardworking collection is to delight people to such a degree that at least half of the library collection is out at any one time,” continued Roalsen.

Which begs the question: won’t there be long lines for popular titles if they’re always checked out? “Not if we change the model of how a library works,” said Assistant Director Rebecca Meehan. Until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine and it becomes safe for people to once again come in and browse the collection and take part in in-person programming, libraries have to be responsive to that reality.

Another reality? There were always patrons who were unable to access library services (programs, technology, and yes, books) due to geographic location, life situation, or work and school schedules. This successful new service is just one way to provide more equitable access to the community (the Woburn Public Library is currently piloting many new services).

That’s why the Woburn Public Library recently rolled out Book Box, a free, flexible subscription service that delivers the hottest new titles directly to your door. What sets it apart from other paid services? Abundance! Again, patrons fill out a reader’s preference form letting the library know which genres they are most excited about.

The team fills the Book Box with brand new titles (and some from the backlist if folks request it), and then the Book Box goes out for delivery.

Why so generous with the titles? “Can you imagine being stuck at home and waiting for your Book Box and then being underwhelmed by the selection? Not on our watch,” said Assistant Director of Technology and Innovation, John Walsh.

So. What’s next for American libraries? It’s unclear. What’s next for the Woburn Public Library? “Oh,” says Roalsen, “we’re going to keep innovating and implementing new ways to delight, help, and inspire the users we serve.” What is for sure in this uncertain time: this is one library to watch.

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