By ANIA KEENAN, Contributing Writer
As the COVID-19 pandemic approaches its one-year anniversary, readers across Lamorinda and greater Contra Costa County have had to get creative in their pursuit of a literary fix.
Enter, eBooks and audiobooks.
Throughout the pandemic, the Contra Costa Library system has registered more online checkouts than ever before, catapulting it to international achievement, joining a small group of 102 libraries around the world that surpassed one million checkouts in 2020.
A majority of the circulation Contra Costa received came through the online services Libby App and Overdrive, that allow readers with a library card to access free eBooks and Audiobooks online via a multitude of compatible devices, including Apple, Chrome and Kindle.
The use of these systems brought the Contra Costa Library system to its current rank as the 55th leading library systems internationally for digital circulation.
“We are thrilled that the pandemic introduced more people to our digital collections and that we were able to provide so many families the opportunity to choose from thousands of eBook and eAudiobook titles for free,” said Public Information Officer for Contra Costa Library, Brooke Converse.
“It’s really easy access to all the books I want to read and especially with COVID-19, eBooks have made things easier,” said Mia Scraith, a junior at Miramonte High School and avid reader.
According to Converse, although the library faced a series of challenges in 2020, a highlight was the expansion of its digital section.
Prior to the pandemic, Contra Costa had a substantial digital section available, but limited circulation. COVID-19 safety guidelines with stay-at-home orders have served as a catalyst to expand online readership.
“We began offering eBooks about 10 years ago. and the collection has grown every year since. We saw a big jump in numbers in 2020 due to the pandemic, but we plan to continue growing our digital collections to meet the needs of our communities,” said Converse.
Long-time library science enthusiast and director of the Orinda branch of the Contra Costa Library system, Micheal Beller expressed his excitement over the diverse reading experiences possible through online reading interfaces.
“It’s not for everyone. Some people will always prefer print, but it does allow for a greater variety of reading experiences. Whether you have vision problems or want to listen to audiobooks during your commute, lots of different people can use them,” said Beller.
Beller is incredibly passionate about his work and says what he misses most about his work pre-Covid is the face-to-face connection with community members. During COVID, he has maintained connection with the community via front door and reference services.
“More and more people are calling us up to find out how they can access eBooks, and how they can get the audiobooks. I love those as well,” Beller said.
Beller expressed excitement about the expansion of the online services, hoping that an increase in digital checkouts may lead to more community awareness of the other online services provided through the Library.
He put special emphasis on the resources Learning Express and BrainFuse, which respectively provide tutorials, and practice for standardized testing while making free online tutoring accessible to every student with a library card.
Converse said the Contra Costa Library System is still in the developmental phase of its re-opening plan. So, for the time being, enthusiastic staff members like Beller will have to content themselves giving out passionate reading recommendations over the phone or six-feet apart.