Camas library launches ‘call center’ to connect community

Those in need of medicine, grocery pickups or just a friendly voice can call to find willing volunteers

(Post-Record file photo) Camas Public Library Director Connie Urquhart says her staff is finding ways to adapt to the governor's "stay home" orders throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Post-Record file photo) The Camas Public Library has pushed the due date for all materials back to May 18 in light of the COVID-19 closures.

As people worldwide adapt to strict “stay home” orders meant to stem the spread of COVID-19, Camas Public Library staff have established a call center to connect those in need of medicine or grocery pickups — or even just a friendly voice on the other end of the phone line — with volunteers willing to help.

“It’s almost like an old-fashioned bulletin board,” said Camas Library Director Connie Urquhart of the library’s new call center. “There are so many people out there who want to help … with this system, they can volunteer to pick up groceries, pick up medicine or just be somebody to talk to on the phone.” 

The program launched Thursday and mailers have gone out to about 95 percent of Camas households with the library’s “call center” number: 360-382-1300.

“This is neighbors helping neighbors,” Urquhart told Camas Mayor Barry McDonnell in a video posted to the city’s YouTube channel. “Camas is about community and the library wants to help facilitate that.” 

The mayor came up with the idea and approached Urquhart last week to see if library staff could figure out a way to connect Camas residents in need with volunteers — without requiring residents to go online or use social media. 

The mayor said he was concerned some people in Camas may not be computer savvy and therefore not able to easily connect to community resources if they needed help navigating Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. 

“I wanted to know if it was possible to get a number to connect with the staff that we have (at the library),” McDonnell said in his video. 

Urquhart said she thought the mayor’s idea was a good one, but wanted to also make sure her staff would be protected and able to remain in their homes.
“We knew we wanted to protect the health and safety of our staff, but still see the mayor’s vision through because it’s a great vision,” Urquhart told the Post-Record. “We were researching to find out what technology could help us.” 

Soon, the library staff found a cloud-based phone system that would allow the library’s 11 full-time and five part-time employees to remain in their homes while still fielding calls from folks seeking volunteer services in their community. 

“It routes to an app on the library staff’s phones and is sort of a round-robin system,” Urquhart said. “It may call me first, then another staff member … so we all get a chance to answer.” 

Library staff will connect volunteers with people in need, but that’s as far as city staff are involved. 

“We will match them and will typically call the volunteer to say, ‘This is the person that needs help,’ but they need to make the arrangements and decide on their own how they want to handle the transaction of money,” Urquhart said. 

Because this is an emergency situation, the library does not have the ability to fully vet volunteers — and will let people know that up front. 

“We are not taking any liability on that,” Urquhart said. “When you call the line, we’re making sure people who are asking for help know that the volunteers haven’t been vetted.” 

The library has six volunteers signed up and ready to help as of Friday, March 27. Mailers with more information should arrive this week to most Camas residents.

Interested volunteers can call the main number at 360-382-1300 or sign up online at https://bit.ly/BeACamasHelper.

The call center will operate from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

Library sees increase in number of patrons

The recent “stay home” orders also have influenced many Camas residents to get a library card and access the library’s many online services, including ebooks and audiobooks. 

Urquhart said library staff had 62 requests for new library cards on Thursday alone. 

“There are a ton of people who want new cards,” she said. “We can (process) those requests online or over the phone and we’ve instituted a new chat service on our website, so people can (request a library card) via chat on their laptop, or through email.” 

Urquhart said she has already received a voicemail that made her tear up. The caller said: “Thank you so much for getting me access like this. I’ve been a resident in Camas for 15 years and never had a library card. I’m just so looking forward to it. Thank you.”

The library had been doing curbside pickup services before the governor’s “stay home” order came down on Monday and saw a 1,000 percent increase in the number of patrons requesting curbside pickups for online orders last week. 

“We are not doing pickups anymore because we wanted to be able to send our staff home and honor the governor’s order to stay home,” Urquhart said. 

Library staff are still helping patrons find the resources they need — putting together lists of book and podcast recommendations and helping people navigate online resources for reading and learning. 

“The library staff are here to serve the community and if we hear that there are things that we can do to help, or to give people resources for specific things, we’re here and we can adapt,” Urquhart said. 

On Friday, March 27, library employee Danielle Reynolds told Urquhart she had enabled an option that allows patrons to use some ebooks and audiobooks — including a few popular titles like “Little Fires Everywhere” — simultaneously.

“So far we’ve had 25 checkouts that we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” Reynolds said.

The library has asked patrons who have books checked out to keep those books and other library items at home and has pushed the due date on all library materials back to May 18. 

For more information about the Camas Public Library, visit cityofcamas.us/camaspubliclibrary.

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