Polk library vending machine

The vending machine-style dispensary for books is one way residents can still take advantage of the library’s offerings during the pandemic.

HAINES CITY – For most, the words “vending machine” conjure up visions of candy bars and canned sodas for sale.

After a dollar or two, then down falls the customer’s selection from the displayed goodies behind the glass.

But, in an effort to continue to serve their customers professionally and conveniently, the Polk County Library Cooperative is providing a vending machine full of books and movies. The machine is located at the Central Florida Visitor Information Center, near Interstate 4 on U.S. 27.

This option for patrons was provided long before COVID-19, but now is an especially appropriate way for customers to check out materials contact-free.

The vending machine is just one way that the group of 15 Polk County libraries didn’t have to tweek or change because of the pandemic. However, they have adapted as needed.

“We have made changes according to the guidelines of the Center for Disease Control and local authorities,” said Mary Ellin Barrett, Librarian at the Haines City Public Library.

Additionally, protective glass has been installed at the circulation desks; appropriate distance has been created in between computers and other study areas; programs previously conducted in the library have been adapted to virtual formats; and sanitizing practices for materials have been adopted. Also, library staff members are required to wear masks.

During the height of the pandemic, while the Haines City Library was closed for several weeks, the staff inventoried the 70,000 materials. Although some of the 14 employees – seven full-time and seven part-time – chose to stay home because of health reasons, most came to work as usual.

After opening for a brief time, the library closed again for another week and just recently reopened.

Barrett wants patrons to know that they are doing everything possible to ensure their safety.

“Once a book or other item is returned, it is quarantined for 24 hours,” she said.

Drop boxes are located outside every library as well as the Visitor’s Center.

“The outdoor drop locations have been in place forever, but now with the pandemic, this continues to provide a safe way to return materials,” Barrett said.

As always, the libraries offer many services electronically.

Books and other materials may be checked out online using the Books By Mail program. With this program, users order selections online and then receive them by mail once they become available.

“These are real books as well as books on CD,” Barrett said.

Also, the Libby app by Overdrive allows users to easily access and borrow e-books and audiobooks. An internet connection and library card make the process easy.

Polk County children and teenagers enrolled in Polk County Public Schools are issued “Plus Cards.”

“Some parents aren’t able to get their kids into the library to get a card,” Barrett said. “The schools issuing the cards has worked out really well. Each student just uses their student ID to check out materials.”

“Libraries have really worked hard to provide services in safe ways,” Barrett said.

For more information, visit www.mypclc.org.