Libraries are one of the many gath- ering locations closed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But now, as New York moves through its reopening phases, libraries too are taking steps to bring back services that had been completely virtual.
“Unfortunately, the atmosphere in the library is going to be very different,” said Kristina Sembler, director of the South Country Library.
The library has devised its own four-phase reopening plan, which has already started. Phase 1 was getting staff back into the building, which was successful. The staff is learning the new guidelines for distancing and cleaning, and have been working to set up the indoor space for people to enter. Phase 2 started Monday, which reopens the book drop and starts curbside pickup of library items. Not only can residents get books and movies, but seeds from the seed library and printing jobs as well. Everything is accessible through the library website.
The Mastic-Moriches-Shirley and Patchogue-Medford libraries are also starting curbside pickup. And when you return your items, they are immediately quarantined for 72 hours before being lent out again. And the in-person atmosphere of the library will be changed for the foreseeable future, the directors said.
“We don’t want people to stay right now,” Sembler said, which is a sharp change from the past, where libraries are known for being community gathering places. But now, it will likely be a grab-and-go situation to limit gathering of people in one place. And protective guards have been set up at all service locations. At the MMS Library, half of the computer stations were removed to create more space between each. General seating has also been removed, and there will likely be limits on how many people are allowed inside and for how long. Currently, the libraries are at 50 percent staff levels in the building, and are alternating work-from-home situations.
“It’s definitely a blended approach right now,” said MMS Library director Kerri Rosalia.
But the shutdown of traditional services has led to people embracing the digital offerings libraries have, some that people didn’t even know were there, according to Pat-Med Library director Danielle Paisley.
“More people are finding out how they can use their library now,” she said.
All three libraries have been doing virtual programming to make up for the many events held within the building for adults and children. South Country has set up resources for those looking for a job, including resume and cover letter assistance. Patchogue-Medford will host their annual summer reading program completely online. At MMS Library, e-lending was up 17 percent in May, and even more the months before. Rosalia said about 25,000 e-items have been download- ed on average over the past three months. At Patchogue-Medford, e-magazine downloads are up 50 percent, Paisley said. And the library directors believe that even when the doors open to people, many of these online services will continue, even curbside pickup.
“A lot of what we implemented is going to stick around,” Sembler said.
Paisley said that new communication features, like their new website chat, will likely stay as well. They’ll also continue to look for more virtual events and things for kids to do. At MMS Library, residents can get a temporary card online if they don’t have one, which will enable them to access services.