Update on Library Service Delivery

Hello, Library Patrons,

I’d like to address some comments the Iowa City Public Library has received about opting not to offer a curbside delivery service of library materials.    

Since the very beginning of awareness of COVID-19 in Iowa, every decision made about staffing the library and serving the public has been made with safety as the primary consideration.  The decision to close—which was a painful decision to make—was in direct response to the Johnson County Public Health’s statements around the importance of staying home, restricting unnecessary travel, and limiting interactions.  From there, deciding not to offer a curbside option felt logical, since it would keep people from coming to the library and reduce the transfer of potentially contaminated materials.  Sending all staff home relates directly to safety as well; by reducing travel throughout the community and unnecessary interactions, we are not contributing to the spread of COVID-19.  These choices were complex and difficult on an emotional level, but in a practical sense, they were simple.  The driving question was always, “what is the safest option?”  While most of the decisions related to restricting access to library services and materials have been made in collaboration with the Library’s Leadership Team, the ICPL Board of Trustees, and City of Iowa City leadership, as the Library Director, I take responsibility for the actions we have taken.  In the context of COVID-19 response, I feel proud that we have stood firmly in the belief that safety is our primary goal and, even when it means deviating from what we want to do or think we could do, we are committed to choosing the safe choice over all others.  

Logistically, ICPL will face some significant challenges when we decide to implement a materials pickup model.  We are a high-use library, and the volume of holds pre-closure required substantial staff time to process.  Our work spaces are not designed to allow for social distancing, so we will have to approach this project with reduced staff, which will increase processing time.  We have five parking spots.  This will cause frustration for patrons coming to collect materials.  We will most likely have to limit the number of items that can be placed on hold at once and require people to schedule pickup times in advance.   Don’t get me wrong, librarians love a puzzle, and we can certainly figure out ways to address every part of the process, but the experience of picking up a hold at ICPL will be dissimilar than picking up a hold at libraries with different layouts and outdoor spaces. 

We are actively planning for reopening, which will feature a tiered rollout of sustainable onsite services.  Staff committees have been formed to address individual services, like circulation of materials and computer and Internet access.  We can hardly wait to be serving you in person again, but we will continue to be careful and thoughtful about how we do so.  When Johnson County Public Health and the Iowa Department of Public Health lift restrictions related to gatherings, social distancing, and service to the public, we will be ready to welcome you back into the library, though that welcome may come with some new expectations for all of us.

I have seen a couple of questions about the Library’s nonessential status during the City’s COVID-19 response, and I’d like to share some information about that.  We are, in this current challenge, considered a nonessential City service (along with The Center and Parks & Recreation).  This status is situational.  After a natural disaster or event that results in different community needs—think access to running water, shelter, heat/air conditioning, working technology, etc.—the Library is often declared an essential service.  In this case, where the primary “solutions” to the COVID challenge are social distancing and strategic quarantines, the Library could not fulfill our core services without actively contributing to the spread of the virus. . 

I hope this answers some of your questions about the library’s decisions about limiting access during this pandemic.  Thank you for being patient, for trying to understand our perspective, and for caring about the safety of your community.

Feel free to reach out to me directly if you have questions, comments, criticisms, suggestions, or just want to talk about Library services.  I’d love to hear from you.


Elsworth Carman

Director, Iowa City Public Library


Office Phone: 319.356.5241



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When you re-open, in whatever capacity, please let me know if home delivery for library patrons is an option you would consider. Maybe this would be a way people could get books from the library without coming downtown. If so, I'd be happy to volunteer to drive/bike deliveries as needed. Thanks for all you do - we miss the library so much!

Elsworth's picture

Thank you for inquiring about alternative material access! As part of our planning process for reopening, we are evaluating ways our At Home Services could be expanded or changed to better meet our community's needs. I truly appreciate your offer to help and will reach out if we add a volunteer component to our delivery model. We miss you, too, and look forward to seeing you soon. Stay well!

Since summer camps are likely to be closed, could you print the book lists you have and more divided by age group/topic etc. Perhaps the book mobile could be activated before the library for books ordered on hold. I don't really have the answer but wonder what curbside services could be developed as the library building doesn't lend itself to limited access curbside.

Elsworth's picture

Sonia, thank you for sharing these ideas! We're working hard to develop a curbside model that will work in our location, and plan to share more information about that soon. I'll share your thoughts about book and genre lists with our Children's Services staff. Thank you!

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