Pandemic Library Tech: Planning for Limited Patron Visits

My library is still in working from home mode. After WFH mode there will be a time where we’re all back in the building (maybe in shifts?) getting stuff organized, and then a further time when our only physical interactions with patrons will be… well, not interactions at all. We’re planning on having some sort of contactless pickup for a while. (How long? Who knows? We’ll have it for as long as we need to in order to keep our patrons and employees safe.)

Anyway, after contactless pickup mode ends, we’re anticipating a time when we do let patrons back into the building, but only a limited number of patrons, and only for a limited amount of time. The question becomes: How will we manage that?

Happily I have a genius co-worker who was like, “Hey, what about those pagers that chain restaurants give out so you know when they’re ready for you?” And then I kicked myself, because I’ve even worked at a library that had some of those pagers before, and that STILL never occurred to me. (My previous library used them originally to notify students when there was a laptop available for them to checkout, and then later to notify students when in-demand reserve items were available. So a pretty different context. But still–why did I not think of this??)

Anyway that’s my library’s plan. We’ve ordered a set of Microframe Slimline Vibrating Pagers for each of our branches. We chose this particular product because:

  • The Town procurement office, when we asked what they could turn up, only found us some other company that was going to charge us an ongoing monthly fee to make the pagers work. (You can’t see the face I make at the thought of ANOTHER monthly service we would have to keep up with, especially during a time when the budget is likely to be scarily tight. Please, no!)
  • My previous library bought the equivalent of these pagers from Microframe 15+ years ago. Of the 20 they bought, only about two have died so far.
  • The amount of time my previous library has had their pagers might be a giveaway, but did I mention–there’s no ongoing service charge for these! You buy the full system once, and it’s yours to use forever.

Anyway, the plan for how we’ll use them works like this:

  1. Patrons wait outside the library in a socially distanced line until it’s their turn to come in.
  2. You (the patron) can come in when we have a pager to give you. We buzz the pager so it’s vibrating when we hand it to you, and have it set so that it will automatically go off again 25 minutes later. (Re-page function for the win!)
  3. We explain that this is what it looks like when the pager goes off. When it goes off again, you need to bring back your pager, checkout your materials, and leave.
  4. When you bring the pager back to us, we ask you to wipe it down with a sanitizing wipe before you hand it to us.
  5. We give the pager to the next patron in line.

It’s an easy way for us to keep track of how many people are in the building. It’s an easy way to remind people to come back to the desk and get ready to leave. It’s good for privacy because we’re not linking this to anyone’s phone or anything. It’s good for equity because we’re not *requiring* anyone to have a phone or anything.

Possible drawbacks? A patron could set the pager down and walk away, intentionally or not. I’m not worried about finding the pagers again–they can be triggered to go off until you find them–but it’s very much just an honor policy thing for patrons to actually hold on to the pager and return to the checkout area when they’re supposed to. Also I suppose someone could steal their pager, though I can’t think why anyone would want to.

Nifty bonuses to this system? It sounds like we’ll be able to put some kind of customizable, swap-out-able, promotional material or instructions on each pager.

Also, I have plans for these things when/if we get back to doing live, in-person events again. We used to give out boring paper tickets for our storytimes. How much cooler if you could hand a kid a pager that will vibrate and light up when it’s time to head over to storytime? So. Much. Cooler.

So, yep. That’s why my library is buying restaurant pagers.

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