The Timberland Regional Libraries in Lewis County had to close in mid-March, but demand for their services hasn’t gone anywhere, library staff said.
The Centralia branch of the Timberland Regional Libraries is also planning to open four computers up for public use during the first week of November. The Centralia and Chehalis Libraries have had Chromebooks available for checkout and citizens can sit outside the library to use the free WiFi.
Centralia TRL Manager Susan Faubion said that local public interest and usage of ebooks have increased since the pandemic. Citizens with library cards can download the “Libby” app to a smartphone or tablet, enter their library card number and browse the thousands of e-books and audiobooks available digitally.
The library is still closed to the public but individuals looking to check out a physical book can call, reserve it and pick it up in the library lobby.
“Most of us want to work at the library because we love helping people and it was especially hard when we really weren’t helping people during the shutdown. There’s not as much contact with people and I really miss that,” said Faubion.
The number of physical books checked out at both the Centralia and Chehalis libraries has decreased since COVID-19. Faubion said, before the library closures, many patrons would find books that piqued their interest by browsing the bookshelves.
At the Centralia Timberland Regional Library the number of e-books and audiobooks checked out before the COVID-19 pandemic was around 4,000 each month and by June the numbers were consistently above 5,000. A similar increase in e-book and audiobook checkouts occurred at the Chehalis Library, according to the Timberland Regional Library database.
On the flip side, the Centralia library’s physical book checkouts were over 6,000 items in February of this year but by September it had dropped to just over 3,000 items. The Chehalis branch saw book checkouts at close to 9,000 items in January and February but by summer the number of books checked out was around 4,500.
Andrea Heisel, Collection Services Director at Timberland Regional Library said that the publishing industry was struggling before the COVID-19 pandemic and it has made it increasingly difficult to purchase physical books.
“We’re down to one major printer in the United States… We’re kind of running into a supply and demand issue with print material,” said Heisel. “It just makes sense to pivot our business model a little bit and put additional funds toward our e-books purchasing so that’s what we did â” especially during the complete closure of the library system.”
In 2019 the total e-book checkout was at 988,462 items for all branches of the Timberland Regional Libraries and from January to September the e-book checkouts total 905,371 items, according to Heisel. TRL has 27 community library locations in Lewis, Mason, Thurston, Grays Harbor and Pacific County. There are six TRL libraries in Lewis County.
“The growth in our e-book checkout has happened every year and the pandemic has almost doubled what it normally is,” said Heisel.
The growth in e-book checkout has gone from about 12 to 13 percent to 22 percent amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
For those who prefer physical books, Chehalis Timberland Library Manager Lily Grant said that people can call the library, explain the kinds of books they enjoy and a staff member will pull a selection of books for them to choose from.
The Timberland Regional Library locations used to hold storytimes for kids at the library which have now been moved online via Zoom.
The virtual storytimes can be found on the Timberland Regional Library website at www.trl.org. Those wishing to sign up for a library card to start checking out physical books, e-books or audiobooks can find more information on the TRL website or by calling their local library branch.