Browsing for Books Becomes Easier as COVID Restrictions Loosen

A Free Little Library hosts a selection of books, which can be taken or donated by anyone. Photo credit: Nora Hugo

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, people continue to seek entertainment. Some may turn to movies, shows, or social media. But for many others, the perfect way to escape from reality is consuming as many books as possible. Although it may have been easier to get all books from Amazon or big bookstores like Powell’s, pandemic restrictions are starting to loosen as vaccinations rise. Consequently, our local bookstores and libraries are beginning to change their policies, and it is becoming easier to access and browse for books at smaller locations closer to home.

Some local bookstores have not yet opened their doors to public browsing—however, they are still managing to let customers into their stores. Backstory Books & Yarn and Wallace Books, both located in Southeast Portland, as well as Broadway Books, found in the Northeast Broadway area, are all small bookstores that are open for private appointments. This means that one person or group can book the entire bookstore for their own personal browsing for about an hour at a time. 

“It has felt so good to reconnect with customers and to hear about their delight in having the bookshop to themselves for an hour,” says Amanda Doimas, who owns Backstory. Earlier in the pandemic she had been unable to see customers, and created a website to sell books—however, “I have long avoided selling books predominantly on-line, like most of the booksellers I know,” she says. Re-opening her store is going to be a slow process, but “[she looks] forward to the day when people are allowed to jostle alongside one another inside [her] little shop.”

For some other Portland bookstores, the opportunity to open their stores to public browsing has already arisen. Belmont Books and Bearly Read Books, two bookstores located in Southeast Portland, are both open for walk-ins, although individual appointments can still be scheduled at Belmont for shoppers who want the store to themselves. Belmont Books hosts a variety of books, mostly under 10 dollars (great for a high schooler’s budget!), and Bearly Read’s Facebook page boasts used books that generally sell for half the cover price. 

Melville Books in Northeast Portland and Annie Bloom’s Books in Multnomah Village have also opened for public browsing. Michael Keefe, the publicist and events coordinator at Annie Bloom’s, says that being able to have customers in the store makes the bookselling process more enjoyable for everyone. “When customers are able to browse in person, the shopping experience is more organic,” he says. “[It] can lead to fun discoveries that they likely wouldn’t have made while shopping on our website or requesting specific titles at our front door.” Annie Bloom’s Books recently reopened in April, and their store hosts a number of books in the Children’s, Young Adult, and Teen genres.

For those that don’t want to spend money on good books but still want the chance to read them, the Multnomah County Library system is a great resource. Despite pandemic restrictions, the libraries have been using pick-up services to connect to patrons. Although library members are not currently able to enter the building, they can pick up holds, as well as request a bundle of books chosen by the librarians. A good selection of online books are also available on the website, and the libraries remain fine-free. 

Now that vaccine rates are on the rise, however, more allowances are starting to be made. Five of the libraries in the Multnomah County system are set to reopen for limited browsing on June 1. The Capitol Hill, Gresham, Holgate, Kenton and Midland libraries will add services like in-person browsing and computer access for a limited number of patrons at a time. 

Along with the future reopening of some libraries, access to the Multnomah County Library system has become even easier for high school students. As of May 21, all Portland Public School (PPS) students have access to Multnomah County Libraries through a program called Library Connect. This program will enable students to access the library without a standard library card; student identification cards supplied by their schools can be used in their place. 

The Multnomah County Library system isn’t the only library available to Franklin students. Books can also be checked out from the Franklin library. Ayn Frazee, the school’s new librarian, has been keeping up a pickup system similar to that of the public libraries. Forms on the library website display options to receive a bag of books handpicked by Frazee, and if a book cannot be found in the library, there is an option on the website to request a purchase. 

Now that Franklin has started a hybrid learning model, students will have even more opportunities to use the library. Although people cannot gather in the library space, it is open during passing periods and after school for limited browsing. The school librarians will help maintain student and staff safety by quarantining all books that have been touched by students, even just momentarily, for three days. They will limit the amount of people allowed in the library at a time, and classes can book a time to use the library as a class. “I just want people to know,” says Frazee, “school has been closed, but the library is totally open.” The library website can be found here.

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