While closed, Durham libraries offer resources, sense of normalcy

The Durham County Main Library, located at 300 N. Roxboro St. The Main Library has been closed for renovation since early 2017. Now, all library locations in Durham are closed due to COVID-19, but patrons can still access many online resources during this time. (Photo by Stephanie Bonestell)

Although the doors are temporarily closed at all Durham County Library locations due to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, Durham County residents can still take advantage of many online resources the library has to offer.

The library closed March 15 after Gov. Roy Cooper issued Executive Order 117, which prohibits mass gatherings of more than 100 people.

Stephanie Bonestell, the library’s public relations officer, said that, throughout the closure, the library is trying to offer a sense of normalcy for Durham County residents and provide them with as many resources as possible.

A pre-Covid-19 era photo shows activity at the Sanford Warren Branch Library.(File photo, Durham VOICE)

“We’re doing absolutely what we can do with what we have available,” Bonestell said. “Our priority is our customers, whether it be their safety, their learning or their ability to access materials.”

Throughout the closure, any person with a Durham County Library card is able to check out any of the library’s online resources, including e-books, movies, magazines and music.

Using OverDrive, one of the library’s e-book vendors, library cardholders can check out up to 15 e-books or audiobooks at a time. Other resources from the library, like Acorn TV and IndieFlix, offer TV shows and movies for checkout.

Durham residents who do not have a library card can sign up for a temporary card using their cellphone number. The temporary cards will provide access to the library’s online resources as long as the library is closed. After the library reopens, temporary cardholders can go to any Durham County Library location to make their card permanent.

The library also offers access to its online collection for all Durham Public Schools students, using their student ID numbers.

“We pride ourselves on having a lot of online resources available for the community,” Bonestell said. “So, we’re really trying to guide people to those resources and make those resources as available as possible.”

The library temporarily changed its overdue book policy and is not charging fines on any books or resources checked out after March 6. Checkout restrictions have temporarily been lifted, so patrons with previously accrued fines are able to use the online resources with no issue.

To ensure the public’s safety, the library also closed all book drops and is encouraging patrons to “enjoy those books a little longer” by keeping them until the library reopens.

And while library staff can’t interact with library patrons in-person for the time being, Bonestell said that her team has been utilizing the library’s instant messaging, or chat, feature and social media channels to keep in touch.

The chat feature, which can be found on the library’s website, allows patrons to ask Durham County librarians questions about the online resources and get responses in real-time.

“We’re just trying to get the word out that, while brick-and-mortars are closed, we are here. We are active. We are online,” Bonestell said.

Durham County Library recorded about 191,000 public computer sessions in the 2019 fiscal year. Durham residents who are unable to access internet with the library closed may qualify for free access through Charter Communications (the parent company of Spectrum), which is offering free internet service to households with K-12 and/or college students who do not already have a Spectrum subscription.

On social media, the Durham community has shown an overwhelming amount of support for the library and their response to the closure.

“We have had nothing but support,” Bonestell said. “Our community has been fabulous. I think they get that we’re truly out there trying to help make things better in any way that we can.”

First opened in 1898, Durham County Library was the first free, tax-supported library in North Carolina. The library served more than 190,000 borrowers and had a resource circulation of more than 2.5 million in the 2019 fiscal year.

“The library as a whole is an equalizer,” Bonestell said. “A library provides everyone, no matter what, the same availability of information and resources. Our services are free and open to the public. And it’s important that in a time where there’s a lot of confusion and a lot of fear that people will be able to access some sense of normal.”

For more information on the online resources Durham County Library is offering during this time and to learn how you can use them, visit the COVID-19 update on the library website.