With the opening of the Carmel Clay Public Library’s Joyce Winner West Branch on Jan. 6, 2020, the new year looked to be one of growth and expanded opportunities.
That turned out to be true in a sense, but not in a way anyone expected at the time.
CCPL closed both of its campuses two months later after the governor ordered a lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, leading library officials to scramble to figure out what it would look like to serve patrons amid a pandemic.
CCPL Director Bob Swanay on March 15 — exactly one year after the library closed its doors — gave his annual report to the Carmel City Council. Not surprisingly, the year in review was a bit different than most.
Swanay said patrons checked out more than 1.4 million items in 2020, which is down 36 percent from the previous year. However, with the library having a 42 percent reduction in operating days in 2020, the average daily circulation was the highest it’s ever been at 6,822 checkouts per day.
The pandemic provided a boost to CCPL’s digital offerings, with e-book circulation jumping 56 percent from the previous year and audiobook downloads rising 23 percent. Media streaming services Hoopla saw a 45 percent increase in use with Kanopy usage rising 107 percent.
The main branch reopened for in-person visits in June 2020, but the west branch has remained closed — except for pickup service — since the lockdown began. However, that is expected to soon change.
“Our decision to keep the west branch at curbside-only service for as long as it has been, is because of the branch’s small size. It is extremely difficult to allow for physical distancing there, particularly since we have been quarantining returned materials in the branch’s conservatory,” CCPL Communications Manager Christy Walker stated in an email. “We’re excited that improvements in the county’s COVID numbers and the increased vaccination rate mean that we can make plans for reopening that location to in-person visits in April.”
Other changes coming soon include reopening the Digital Media Lab at 23 E. Main St., which has been closed since the start of the pandemic, and adding seating options at the temporary Merchants’ Square branch.
Swanay also provided the council an update on the $40 million renovation of the library’s main campus on Main Street, which broke ground in October 2020. The two-year project will include upgraded children and teen areas, a parking garage, a lawn for outdoor events and greatly expanded program space that can be divided in two.
“This is exciting. It gives us the ability to have a lot larger capacity for events and to have two sizable events happening simultaneously in both sides of the space,” Swanay said.
To expedite construction, the library made a temporary move to a former grocery store building in Merchants’ Square on near Keystone Parkway and 116th Street. That location opened in October 2020 and is expected to house the library until 2022, when it plans to move back into its renovated building.