In March, 2020, due to the global COVID-19 epidemic, the country’s economy and people’s normal rhythm of life were disrupted after the quarantine was announced in Lithuania. This unprecedented event has, both, limited the opportunities to provide cultural services and reduced their availability in the usual way. Libraries have completely stopped providing the main service – lending books. The pandemic has shown how quickly circumstances can change and how important it is to find creative solutions that will help maintain ordinary services of public libraries.

Not all people can buy books in bookstores or online – the supply of audio or e-books, especially in Lithuanian, is insufficient and even with the possibility to purchase them, not all social groups can do so. Therefore, a library is the only way for these people to get books. From the very beginning of the pandemic, Šiauliai county Povilas Višinskis public library has been looking for ways to make books available to public, while maintaining the necessary safety measures to protect both readers and employees.

In preparation for the second wave of COVID-19, the library’s team came up with the idea of initiating a project to implement a safe, contactless book lending through book lending machines in Šiauliai and, despite the pandemic affecting cultural life, the public was encouraged to spend more time with a book in hand.

The project “Increasing the Availability of Information Resources in Šiauliai City” initiated by the library, financed by the Lithuanian Council for Culture and Šiauliai City Municipality, consisted of two main steps. The first one was a widely publicized campaign to promote reading, during which well-known representatives of Lithuanian culture and art told about their favorite, recommended books, explained why everyone should read them. Videos with these conversations were distributed on social networks, websites of cultural institutions and public libraries, posters were publicized in the city spaces.All the recommended books can be found in the library so any reader can borrow them.

The second step of the project was to install three specially made book lending machines. Readers can pick up the books, ordered from Šiauliai county Povilas Višinskis and Šiauliai city Municipality libraries, at their convenience and without visiting the library premises. This possibility of receiving books is very important, especially when, for various reasons, such as stopping the spread of a pandemic, it is advisable to keep public access to a minimum or to restrict the physical provision of services.

The project is implemented in close cooperation with public libraries of the region, cultural and art institutions. Graphic design of the book lending machines were curated by artists of Šiauliai city. The library already notices that this project and innovative contactless book lending service have encouraged the Šiauliai city community to read more and ensured convenient availability of information resources in Šiauliai for those target audiences who, due to various reasons, do not have frequent access to the library.