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What Library Patrons Are Reading And Watching During Quarantine

Illinois Prairie Library District

Americans are turning to books, at-home movies, and puzzles for entertainment during the novel coronavirus pandemic. It begs the question – what’s popular in central Illinois now that curbside pick-up options are available? An unscientific check with a few library systems reveals requests span genres and generations.

“The Splendid & The Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz” is the top adult book requested since curbside service began May 6, according to Peoria Public Library Deputy Director Roberta Koscielski.

“I’m seeing a higher portion of print books going out than other formats,” she said.

The nonfiction book by author Erik Larson – of “Devil in the White City” fame – was released in February. Koscielski said two additional 2020 releases are among the top five requested: January’s “A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America” by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig is the third-most popular. The newest Amos Decker novel “Walk the Wire” by David Baldacci, released in April, ranks fifth.

Peoria’s popular requests aren’t limited to recent publications, said Koscielski. 2018’s “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens is the second most popular title request. Celeste Ng’s 2017 novel “Little Fires Everywhere” ranks third.

Credit Peoria Public Library / Facebook
Items awaiting curbside pickup at the Peoria Public Library North Branch on Friday.

The Peoria Public Library delivers curbside on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Main, Lakeview, and North branches. Koscielski said there’s no doubt the service is popular.

“People are there at or before 2 o’clock and the first hour from 2 to 3 is especially busy,” she said.

Joel Shoemaker, director of the Illinois Prairie District Public Library system based in Metamora, said patrons were elated when curbside deliveries began with a soft roll-out began May 1.

“A lot of patrons (are) breathing sighs of relief that they can get some new books,” said Shoemaker. “People have called during April and said they’d read everything twice, even the bad ones. So, they were ready for new stuff.”

Pekin Public Library debuted curbside service May 9. Collections Development Librarian Victoria Volckmann said business has been brisk, with 250 items pulled before 11 a.m. on Wednesday alone. “Patrons are requesting the kind of authors they normally request. We’re seeing a lot of holds on Danielle Steel, James Patterson, Nora Roberts,” said Volckmann. “But we’re also seeing folks booking and requesting things that are actually already available on the shelf because they don’t want to wait for those newer books.”

Shoemaker, director of the Illinois Prairie District Public Library system, said new fiction is proving popular among his users.

“We’re getting a lot of new adult fiction, titles that may have been published since we closed,” he said.

“Frozen II,” “Maleficent,” and “Jumanji: The Next Level” are the top children’s movie requests in Peoria, said Koscielski. Barbara Park’s “Junie B., First Grader: Toothless Wonder” is the top children’s book request. At the Pekin library, Volckmann said a variety of children’s items are being checked out, but youth nonfiction is also popular.

“We have seen a lot more of the nonfiction requests for children’s materials. I think that kind of reflects all of the home learning that’s going on with parents trying to supplement kind of the home-schooling things,” she said.

Shoemaker said parents are also stocking up for summer.

“There are quite a few mothers and fathers that are picking up 20 and 40 picture books for their families for the summer.”

Electronic options have also proven popular across the board. Koscielski said movie and music downloads in Peoria are up nearly 25%. E-book interest is even higher.

“For the first four months of 2020, e-book circulation is up 47.9 percent over last year – January through April 2019,” she said.

Volckmann reported Pekin’s Overdrive online service has processed 600 more requests since March than during the same period in 2019.

Shoemaker said digital material is also popular in the Illinois Prairie District Public Library system.

“I think there’s something like 5 times the amount of check-outs on our e-books,” he said.

While curbside has proven popular with patrons, all thee library systems report an overall drop in the volume of physical checkouts. Volckmann thinks the inability to scan the stacks may be to blame.

“A lot of people are still staying home, obviously, and many people, I think, prefer to come into the library and browse – to kind of pick what catches their eye,” said Volckmann. “That’s pretty hard to do when you have to request something over the phone or through our online catalogs.”

Patrons in the three library systems can return items to designated drop boxes. Volckmann said Pekin places returns in a 72-hour quarantine before processing for check-in. Shoemaker said his libraries isolate items for three days. Peoria’s procedure is similar.

“The staff who empty the book drops wear a mask and they wear gloves,” Koscielski said. “They take them (returned items) and let them sit for three days.”

Koscielski said the Peoria Public Library has processed approximately 250 temporary library cards over the past several weeks. Shoemaker said his district has issued four dozen virtual library cards since the pandemic began, with 75% being new patrons.

Shoemaker said the pandemic shows libraries are still relevant in the digital age.

“With the availability of electronic resources and the 24/7 availability of our website and our catalog and our ability to place holds, etc. It just shows that the library is more than the building and that we… were available throughout the crisis as well,” he said. “I think people really responded to that.”

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Kristin McHugh is an experienced radio journalist and nonprofit manager. Most recently, she served as executive director of the Peoria Area World Affairs Council.