CORONAVIRUS

Public libraries in Linn County inch toward reopening

Marion, Cedar Rapids plan on opening for appointments only, continuing curbside pickup

Marion Public Library patron services staff Jacob Hauskins talks with a patron on the phone on Wednesday, July 15, 2020.
Marion Public Library patron services staff Jacob Hauskins talks with a patron on the phone on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Patrons call ahead before picking up their holds at the pickup window. The library is preparing a reopening plan that includes allowing patrons by appointment; continuing use of the pickup window for holds; installation of sneeze guards at desks and in the computer area; and other enhanced health measures. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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Public libraries, closed to the public since mid-March, are taking steps to reopen by appointment only.

The Marion Public Library will reopen Monday for appointments only, with social distancing, limits on how many can come in at one time and other pandemic restrictions in place.

The Cedar Rapids Public Library will begin making appointments — for computer usage only — on July 27 at its downtown and west-side Ladd Library. Each patron will be allowed one hour of computer use a day.

The libraries in both cities and the Hiawatha Public Library will continue curbside pickup of books placed on reserve. All materials are quarantined for 72 hours before being recirculated.

Each library is establishing new protocols aimed at stemming any spread of the coronavirus. Plexiglass barriers have been installed around computers and checkout areas.

“Library services are a critical lifeline for a community,” Marion Library Director Hollie Trenary said. “It’s critically important for us to open and connect people to resources. The hardest decision for any public library to make is to close its doors.”

To book an appointment in Marion, patrons will either need to call in advance or book a time online. They will be able to browse the stacks or use a computer or whatever else they may need for up to an hour.

Only 12 people will be into the library per hour, Deputy Director Kelly Dybvig said.

The building will open for four hours, close for a cleaning hour and then reopen for four again.

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The library will have a staff member at the door to check people in. Visitors will enter by one door and leave through another.

Curbside pickup will be available throughout the day, including during the cleaning hour.

Masks or face coverings also will be required for all patrons and staff. Patrons will be encouraged to use the self-checkout.

Library staff members also will get their temperature checked before each shift and every four hours during a shift.

Cedar Rapids

The city of Cedar Rapids announced last week that city buildings will remain closed to the public through Sept. 8.

But the library is opening for appointments for computer usage July 27.

As in Marion, masks or face coverings will be required for visitors and staff. Staff members will have their temperatures checked before each shift and will be disinfecting high-touch surfaces each hour, Library Director Dara Schmidt said.

Schmidt said the library will look at opening to the public — with limits on how many are in the building — in September.

“With current (COVID-19) numbers, that is a wise decision right now,” Schmidt said, adding access to computers is the biggest community need the library sees.

“We are making this slightly different decision than the rest of the city buildings because of that one resource we have that isn’t available anywhere else,” she said. “Computer use and the connection to all online resources are essential. The one gap that’s not filled anywhere else in the community is an actual computer to come use and get stuff done on.”

Hiawatha

Hiawatha Public Library Director Jeaneal Weeks agreed internet access is the driving force behind libraries figuring out how to operate during a pandemic.

“Even if and when the pandemic goes away, providing internet is an issue that remains,” Weeks said. “It’s the most vital thing for us to offer.”

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The Hiawatha library, which has been offering curbside pickup since May, has no solid date to reopen its doors, given construction of an addition there. The addition expands library space from 8,500 square feet to 22,000 square feet.

“Once we get into the new building, we will continue curbside service and will go forward with making decisions at that point,” Weeks said.

Weeks plans to start moving into the new section July 29 and be done Aug. 4.

She said visits by appointment is likely the next step for the library.

“It will be our decision as the library, but we will use the guidance of the city,” Weeks said. “We have all these weird interim decisions to make based on the services we will provide. It’s all up in the air. … The new library will be large so there will be better social distancing.”

Library Staffers

All three metro libraries have had to make staff adjustments during the pandemic, but no one has been furloughed or laid off.

In Marion, Trenary said some staff went on paid administrative leave.

In Cedar Rapids, Schmidt said nobody has been furloughed, given that staff has been doing virtual programming and helping around 400 people a day with curbside pickup of library materials. Staffers, with technology set up in their homes, have been able to keep phone systems up and running.

“Our staff are working really hard and running around. I’m very proud of that,” Schmidt said. “We have been able to maintain the same hours and have examined some of our open positions. But everything is uncertain. and we may not be able to maintain that forever going this way.”

In Hiawatha, staffers were put on paid administrative leave or worked from home, Weeks said.

“When we brought people back, we did it kind of gradually,” Weeks said. “And when we started curbside, we realized we needed all hands on deck. It’s a different busy, but it’s still busy.”

Circulation

The Libraries Have Seen Changes In Circulation, With Fewer Physical Items Checked Out, But With More People Using Digital Services.

In Hiawatha, the June 2019 monthly report saw 24,052 items checked out. This year it was 15,277.

“June is usually our busiest month with the summer program,” Weeks said. “This place is usually crawling with people during that time. And it’s our digital materials driving this year’s numbers.”

At the end of the day, Schmidt said, each library is on the same page but making different decisions due to each building’s space.

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“Like literally everybody else, we are trying to balance our community needs with the situation of the moment in our communities,” she said. “We appreciate our patrons. They’ve been supportive and patient.”

Dybvig said Marion, too, appreciates the patience and support from community members.

“I hope the community knows that we’ve put hours of thought into our plan and checked the details to make this as safe as we can for the public and our staff,” she said.

Comments: gage.miskimen@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

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