Richmond Public Library ‘tableside service’ growing in popularity

We tried out the Richmond Public Library's new 'tableside service' and found it to be a simple, easy and safe process. (Photos credit: Mike Kinney)

By Mike Kinney

The Bay Area recently celebrated “Bike to Wherever Month,” which was created because people cannot currently “Bike to Work” amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

But recently we noticed an interesting slogan coming from the Richmond Public Library: “Bike to the Library.” And we thought it seemed like a worthy destination.

Indeed it was.

While the libraries have been closed to patrons during the pandemic, the Main Library branch in the Civic Center has been offering “tableside” service since June, which allows cardholders to pre-order and pick up books and other library materials from a library staffer in front of the library.

Starting Oct. 6, tableside service will also be offered at the West Side and Bayview library branches on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

How has it been working? In order to find out, I decided to “Bike to the Library.”

For Library patrons who want a run-down of the tableside service process, you can find it on the city’s website here. I got my information from the very helpful Jose Dominguez, a Library staff member.

The basic process: Patrons can either go online to request library materials (books, magazines, DVDs and CDs), or call into the Main Branch reference desk at (510) 620-6561.

“When we have the library materials physically present, we call the patrons to make an appointment for a tableside pick up,” Dominguez said. “Once library staff makes that appointment , the patron shows up for the time and day for the appointment in front of the Richmond Main Branch Library. There are two parking spaces reserved directly in front of the library. There will be signs with phone numbers out front for the patron to call a library staff member to let them know they are there for their appointment and are ready to pick up the requested library materials.”

After that, staff brings out the library materials, places them on a book truck cart in a free reusable canvas bag in front of the library. Patrons are asked to wait until the staff member returns inside the library before picking up their materials.

Same as when you are on a bike: make certain to stay 6 feet away from the staff member and wait for the staff member to return indoors before grabbing your library materials from the book truck cart, Dominguez said.

I followed Dominguez’s direction. As he was working the reference desk, he helped me set up my appointment that very same day, at 2 p.m., to pick up two books. I ordered the late Tony Hillerman’s novels, ‘Skeleton Man’ and ‘A Thief of Time.’

I was excited about fetching library books after all this time. When the time came, I jumped on my mountain bike and pedaled on down to the Main Branch. When I arrived, as Dominguez stated, signs were set up out front offering the phone number to notify library staff of my arrival.

After a few minutes, a young man brought out the books in a free reusable canvas bag and sat them on a book truck cart. Wasn’t long before I pedaled home with them.

“We started doing this new program on June 15 and it’s been going very well,” Interim Library Director Jane Pratt said. “It seems like we are getting busier daily.”

For those struggling to decide what to materials to select at the library, Library staff is happy to help hand-select materials you may enjoy, Pratt said.

In the end, we found the whole process to be quick and easy. It’s nice to know we still can have access to free library materials during the pandemic.