116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Area libraries have been no strangers to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City public libraries closed their doors to patrons when the pandemic arrived in Iowa in March 2020.
As conditions changed, the libraries each offered curbside service initially before welcoming patrons into their lobbies for grab-and-go checkouts. However, both libraries also were forced to scale back services last fall in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
What’s happened since
Now, for the first time since the pandemic began, both libraries have lifted restrictions and are eyeing a return to a pre-pandemic service model.
In February, the Cedar Rapids Public Library allowed patrons back into the building for up to 30 minutes of browsing and up to one hour on the computer. On June 21, all restrictions were lifted.
“People are just tremendously grateful and excited to be back in our spaces again,” said Amber McNamara, community relations manager for the Cedar Rapids library. “We’ve definitely felt the love from our community.”
On July 1, the Iowa City library lifted the time limits on browsing that had been in place since allowing patrons to explore the stacks back in March. Time limits on computer access and Building and Bookmobile capacity restrictions also were lifted.
Both libraries have meeting and study spaces available to the public, as well.
“Folks are welcome to come in, in any number, for as long as they’d like,” said Sam Helmick, community and access services coordinator for the Iowa City library.
Helmick joined the library in September. She said it’s been a delight to see the community return to the library and watch how it’s used as a gathering space.
“We just had this joyful reunion feeling,” she said. “To hear those stories about how the library helped folks get through the pandemic … has just been heartwarming.”
“There have been happy tears” from the staff and public, Helmick said.
Both libraries have continued with virtual programming and have offered outdoor programming this summer. McNamara and Helmick said their facilities are hoping to have programming return in the coming weeks and months.
That said, Helmick said the pandemic has taught libraries valuable lessons about how to best reach their patrons. Staff have realized that not everyone has the ability to make it to an in-person story time or similar event and that Zoom might be a better option, she said.
“We’re not forgetting those lessons,” she said. “We’re actually something more than we were in February 2020.”
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