Libraries throughout Skagit County recently began offering curbside service after months of being unable to check out books, movies and other materials to patrons because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

From Anacortes to Concrete, libraries are offering curbside service in accordance with state rules laid out in Phase 2 for reopening businesses and services. 

"So far all of our patrons have been really happy to be able to swing by and pick up some new reading materials," Central Skagit Sedro-Woolley Library Head of Public Services Kendra Trachta said. 

Representatives of the Anacortes, Burlington and La Conner libraries said they are seeing a lot of use of the new no-contact, curbside pickup services. 

"It's very popular. They've been real busy," Diana Farnsworth of the Anacortes Public Library said of staff handling curbside requests. 

Most libraries launched their new checkout programs last week. 

"We actually had a surprising amount (of pickups) on Saturday," La Conner Regional Library IT Support Matt Wend said. "We had quite a bit of activity that we did not expect." 

Burlington Public Library Assistant Director Janice Burwash said since the library began offering its version of curbside service, called Express Holds Pickup, there has been a lot of activity through the library's website and by phone. 

"When we started there were about I'd say 90 items that had been placed on hold as sort of a backlog," she said.

New holds have come in every day.

"Over the weekend there were 30 new things (put on hold) from when we checked on Friday," Burwash said. 

Patrons cannot enter libraries, but can place holds for items online or over the phone, then drive to the library to pick up their materials. 

"They can pull up to the library, toot their horn and we will run out," Trachta said of the Sedro-Woolley-area library's operation. "Our staff is all wearing masks and gloves when we handle materials that are going out to our patrons. We are putting their items in paper bags so we can put them in their trunk or set them down outside their car to really reduce everyone's exposure." 

Libraries are also, in accordance with state rules, quarantining returned items at least 72 hours before putting them back into circulation. 

"We have some cardboard boxes outside the library. We ask our patrons to return their materials to those boxes, so we can easily pick them up and isolate them," Trachta said. 

Area libraries have resumed using their drop boxes for returns, but some are limiting the hours they are accessible in order to best track how long items are in quarantine. 

The Anacortes Public Library requests patrons use the book drops on 9th Street on Tuesdays and Fridays between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Some patrons are returning books they checked out before libraries in the county closed in March. And some are so eager to pick up new reading materials that some libraries have set new limits on the number of items each person can request.  

"We had to set a limit for requests to five items per library card so that we have enough time to help everybody," Sydney Brady of the Anacortes Public Library said. "It's intensive staff time, needing to find all the items, get them all gathered and ready to go." 

She said it's rewarding work to know that patrons are regaining access to items that can entertain and teach all ages. 

"It's going great," Brady said. "We're just so pleased to be able to serve our patrons again and get books into their hands." 

Because patrons are unable to go inside libraries and browse, some library staff are striving to help identify titles that fit the interests or needs of each patron. 

"If they don't know a particular title or author they can call us and explain what they're looking for. We'll find a few items for them," Trachta of the Sedro-Woolley-area library said. 

Each library has its own system for curbside service. That information is available on library websites, or by calling during operating hours. 

Libraries also continue offering digital services and WiFi that can be used outside the libraries. 

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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