Welcome Back! What To Expect When Returning To Your Library

Welcome Back! What To Expect When Returning To Your Library

Librarians are civic-minded individuals who are on the lookout for ways to open their doors to underserved communities.

Libraries provide sanctuary and safety as well as books and movies. Six years ago, during the protests in Ferguson, MO. over the death of Michael Brown, when schools and businesses closed, Scott Bonner, the Head Librarian, kept the public library open. The first organization to hold a convention in New Orleans after Katrina? The American Library Association. Librarians do not back down from challenges, but COVID-19 presented a new, and often heartbreaking, set of difficulties. The community members who most need libraries; the elderly, children, and the homeless were the ones they were forced to turn away. That did not stop many of them as they moved programs, including summer reading, online and started options like curbside service.

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As we continue to understand how COVID moves through communities, services continue and expand, with some libraries re-opening, others doing curbside and contactless pick-ups, and others keeping a remote-only schedule. Please, come, enjoy your libraries, but expect certain changes and use good sense.

One lesson this pandemic re-taught us is how fast information can change, and even contradict previous data when we encounter anything new. That simple fact makes the job of creating a re-opening plan, one that incorporates good scientific information as well as all local, state and federal guidelines, a moving target. Still, based on a survey conducted by the Public Library Association in May of this year as well as what we’ve learned since, expect to see the following as standard practice in most communities:

• Masks worn by employees and if required by local or state mandates, patrons
• Reduced hours
• Request for patrons to stay home if ill and to keep a distance of 6 feet between themselves and other patrons when you visit
• Computers and shelving rearranged or reduced to ensure a 6-foot distance
• Programs continuing to move online
• Continued use of curbside delivery
• A three-day quarantine between the time you return your items and the library checking them in with a corresponding elimination in any fines

For larger library districts, such as New York city’s public library system, with 92 locations or Detroit, MI system with 23 branches, and serve large, diverse urban populations have additional concerns to consider including:

• Create a set of criteria that determines what branches to open first and when to open them. The temptation is to open the largest branches first and expand out, but those are not accessible to everyone, so a more thoughtful set of standards needed to be established and implemented
• Utilizing all possible media to notify the public of openings and services to keep people safe by preventing unnecessary trips
• Possibly scheduling visits and limiting the time patrons can stay in the library, a choice the New Orleans public library made

Libraries are working hard to re-open. They miss their patrons every bit as much as their community misses them, but ensuring that everyone stays safe while accomplishing this goal has proved challenging. With patience and understanding, your libraries can continue to provide storytimes, job hunting assistance, book clubs, and even a place to have a bit of connection and conversation each day. Welcome back!