Suddenly book browsing has become a hazardous pastime. Durham’s libraries and bookstores have closed their doors, so book lovers have no place to wander through the stacks or pluck an interesting-looking tome off a shelf.
The Regulator Bookshop, Letters Bookshop and Golden Fig Books have closed their doors. The libraries are open for takeout only. These are challenging times if you want to read the first page of a novel before you buy or check it out.
The Regulator’s website explains the hesitation: “Rather than setting any date and possibly raising false expectations we will withhold any announcement until we have a firm date.”
It’s the same for the other stores, which haven’t set a date to reopen. Until they do, the book browsing experience will, like so many things we have come to know, be done through a screen. For now, the smell of freshly printed pages and the satisfying sensation of flipping through a paperback won’t occur until the box arrives by UPS – or you pick it up curbside.
Golden Fig owner David Bradley, says they’ve been “overwhelmed by the outpouring of support we’ve seen from the community” as they ship books throughout Durham and operate a curbside pick-up service.
Durham libraries closed their indoor spaces to the public in response to county stay-at-home ordinance, but residents now have two ways to get new books. They can get ebooks through a newly expanded online program, or actual books through a new pick-up service.
Last week the libraries launched a “Take-Out!” book station at every location, a curbside pick-up service much like a restaurant. Book lovers can just order ahead and swing by when the books are ready.
This virtual inventory has been well received by parents adapting to home schooling, with an increase in kids ebooks and e-audio of 88% from February to March and 55% from March to April .
For physical materials that had been in limbo since the stay-at-home order, the library system opened up an automatic book return system June 1 outside the newly renovated Main Library at 300 N. Roxboro Street.
Bradley said that, as the national conversation has shifted, so has the demand for new books.
Likewise, Stephanie Bonestell, a spokeswoman for the Durham County libraries, said they also have seen a similar increase in interest with titles related to Black Lives Matter, civil rights, and racism in America.
The interest in books by Black authors has prompted important discussions in Durham.
“It’s been our story,” said Victoria Scott-Miller, the owner of Liberation Station, a Durham based “Pop-Up” bookstore. Their website says their mission is centered on “making representation accessible and amplifying Black voices.”
As conversation around systemic racism continues throughout the city, many are asking Scott-Miller and her staff how to educate themselves on the Black experience. Liberation Station has updated its website with resources, but Scott-Miller said this is still a time of grieving for many in the Black community.
“This is a moment for you to learn, for you to gather, for you to do the research and understand the impact,” Scott-Miller says to like-minded community members. She says that provides them time “so we can have the conversation but we’re not having to show up both grieving and teaching at the same time.”
Throughout the pandemic, the store has transitioned from hosting pop-up events (which were like a new take on the Scholastic book fairs) to an almost entirely virtual platform that even includes online storytimes. Still, Scott-Miller and her husband, who co-own the business, insist on hand delivering all orders within the city (they wear a mask and gloves).
The couple feels that the personal delivery is a way to connect with customers and provide a special experience.
“There are a lot of children of color that are seeing themselves in these books for the first time,” she said, “we want them to know that they are of value.”
Their packages are wrapped in chalkboard paper, tied in red twine, and accented with a green notecard — and a handwritten note.
Photo above: Letters Bookshop in downtown Durham remains closed to the public, but the owners have online ordering. Photo by Henry Haggart, The 9th Street Journal