When a book is dropped off in the Mellon Library, it no longer goes back on the shelves to exchange hands to its next enthusiastic reader. Rather, a meticulous protocol is followed in order to safely sanction its release.
As with other areas of the school, the Mellon Library has adapted its practices to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19.
The librarians instituted the quarantining system independently from any administration requirements.
Head Librarian Karen Field said that they did, however, consult guidelines issued by the American Library Association and the School Library Association to set up a system that would keep all parties safe.
“We’re just trying to be as cautious as possible,” she said. “That’s the message … Maybe it’s overkill, but we just want people to feel comfortable.”
Library Administrative Assistant Steve Reed said that when a book is returned, a librarian wearing gloves will return it to the shelves, where it must spend five days untouched. During this period, it still appears on the Mellon Library’s online catalog as unavailable. Then, the book is checked in, and when a student borrows it, a librarian retrieves it from the shelf so that the student can pick it up.
“We’ve just tried to really minimize any contact with the books except by me or by the librarians wearing gloves,” Reed said. “That way we don’t run the risk of contamination.”
Sophia Christodoulou (’21) said that she understands the need for such measures.
“[The protocol] could be seen as quite excessive, but I’m very appreciative that they’re doing a lot for students,” she said.
However, Reed said that although students recognize why the protocol is necessary, many still miss being able to browse the shelves.
“We’ve noticed that some books get checked out less because kids don’t have a chance to come and look at things and see what they might want,” he said. “Browsing the [online] catalog can be a little more challenging.”
Christodoulou said that she much prefers being able to search for books in the library.
“I don’t really like browsing online,” she said. “I like just like looking through the books myself.”
Field said that as a result of the quarantine procedure, far more books are being placed on hold. Between Aug. 20 and Oct. 10 2019, 122 books were placed on hold. During the same period in 2020, 1,080 holds were placed.
Similarly, Field said that engagement with Sora, the Mellon Library’s online platform, has increased greatly amid COVID-19. So far this school year, the platform has seen 333 unique users.
“The virtual platform is kind of taking some of the brunt off of the physical search,” she said.
With the extensive protocol in place, Christodoulou said that students are slightly discouraged from reading.
“It’s not as easy to go find the book that I want,” she said. “It is a bit of a buffer.”
Despite the troubles that COVID-19 has posed, both Reed and Field said that right now is a great opportunity to do some reading.
“This is a great time to be reading because there’s so much less that we can do,” Reed said. “I hope that people are taking advantage of the time to read some things they … should have been reading all this time and haven’t had a chance to get to.”