Playaway Offers Direct Delivery of Library Materials to Patrons

In response to coronavirus shutdown orders that have left public library branches closed across the country, Playaway—developer of products including Playaway pre-loaded audiobook devices, Wonderbook read-alongs, and Launchpad pre-loaded tablets—recently began offering its customers the option to ship products directly from the company to patrons’ homes.

PlayawayIn response to coronavirus shutdown orders that have left public library branches closed across the country, Playaway—developer of products including Playaway pre-loaded audiobook devices, Wonderbook read-alongs, and Launchpad pre-loaded tablets—recently began offering its customers the option to ship products directly from the company to patrons’ homes.

Through “Patron Direct,” users select the physical items using their library’s online catalog, the items are listed as loans on the patron’s account, Playaway mails the items, and when branches begin reopening, patrons return the devices or books as they would a normal loan. Participating libraries would then process these items as new acquisitions.

From the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, it was evident that “libraries are needed more than ever,” Torin Cone, national sales manager for Playaway parent company Findaway, told LJ. Playaway devices have always offered access to electronic content without requiring an internet connection, and company officials knew those use cases had not disappeared. There would be a segment of every library’s audience that couldn’t be served by ramping up online resources or promoting streaming services.

“We are located in a rural area and have a high senior population,” explained Kathy D. McClure, executive director of the Eva K. Bowlby Public Library in Waynesburg, PA. “COVID-19 and Pennsylvania's Stay-at-Home order has greatly impacted our ability to reach [them]. Seniors do not typically utilize technology such as iPads, tablets, social media platforms, etc., and as a result are underserved at this time. For the safety of the community and staff, Patron Direct will be a wonderful way to provide service.”

Melissa Okerblom, head of children's services for Parsippany Public Library, NJ, noted that the library offers access to ebooks, e-audio titles, and other content online, but “for kids, sometimes it’s nice for them to have something tangible to put their hands on.”

To promote the service, Parsippany partnered with a local food pantry, giving out fliers explaining the program, and offering to help non-patrons get signed up for a library card. Anyone who didn’t have access to a computer at home could call in an order, or email the children’s department using a smartphone.

Targeted outreach may be useful for scaling this program. When LJ spoke to Okerblom early this month, Parsippany had been working with the food pantry for about two weeks, and had received Patron Direct orders from 15 households, including one new patron ordering Wonderbooks for her granddaughter. Cone said that another system in Wisconsin had promoted the home delivery option on its social media channels and had received 100 orders in four hours. Libraries can work with Playaway to set budget limits on the program.

Regardless, the direct delivery option may continue to be useful in the coming weeks and months, particularly for reaching groups that remain mostly confined to their homes. As branches begin reopening, libraries are looking for ways to provide service safely, which will involve limiting close contact between staff and patrons.

“I think we’re all interested to see what the new normal looks like,” Cone said.

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