SUGAR GROVE – For the past few weeks, Sugar Grove Public Library employees have been busy collecting items for patrons, and then running them out to cars as a curbside pickup service, which had been the only way for residents to check out materials.
But that's about to change on Monday, July 13, when the library reopens its doors after the long closure because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Curbside services end July 9.
Patrons will notice several changes. Executive Director Shannon Halikias said that the library's Board of Trustees created the reopening plan at the June 24 meeting, basing it on guidelines from the CDC.
"We’re ready and excited to serve our patrons, but not without a sense of anxiety," she explained. "I’m trying to give staff the tools they need- including PPE. We’re at higher risk of infection because we’re handling materials. I think the challenge will be that our patrons have to understand that our services will have to be limited for a while to keep our staff and community safe. That will be hard for those who look forward to all the services at the library."
First of all, the library will have limited hours, at least initially. Patrons will be able to visit the library on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They will be asked to spend no more than 30 minutes in the library at a time, in order to reduce the number of people in the building. Only a small number of computers will be available, and all meeting and study rooms will remain closed. Patrons will also be asked to wear face coverings.
The library did not open when the state first transitioned into Phase 4 of Gov. JB Prtizker's Restore Illinois plan because the staff needed time to develop protocols for not only reopening, but to develop plans to quarantine materials, since the coronavirus could linger on surfaces for three days, Halikias said.
"We have to thoroughly wipe down surfaces every two hours with hospital-grade disinfectant. There will be hand sanitizers everywhere," she explained. "There are so many more shared surfaces in a library as opposed to other businesses- that’s a key component. We have to find ways to mitigate the risk of transmission in our facility. We’re a shared civic space, it’s indoors, we’re handling public materials- that's different than going out to eat or getting a sandwich. We’re asking patrons to please be respectful of the safety of the library staff as well as the community as a whole. We’re all in this together."
Demand and usage of the library's digital services were up about 65% during the pandemic, as patrons were able to download audio book and e-books, Halikias said. The library also issued library cards digitally, and automatically extended expired cards. It also did not charge fines for overdue materials during the shutdown.
"We’ve been putting together surprise bundles, where patrons put a general request and the staff will put together a bundle for them," she said. "We have craft kits- those have been very popular- parents could pick them up with their materials. We’ve done virtual programming, virtual book discussions, and those have been great. Zoom has been wonderful, but we’re ready to see humans again."
The library is still working on plans for when the school year starts, as demand may increase for library materials, technology and study space.
"We can’t have large groups of kids. We don’t know yet what it will look like.," Halikias said about when kids go back to the classroom. "We're trying to plan for all these unknown variables that are coming down our pipe line, and that will be difficult. We'll have to be able to pivot very quickly. It might look like [the library] purchasing WiFi hot spots and technology, while highlighting home-schooling resources and strengthening our partnership with school districts. The unseen variables for supporting organizations [like the library] will be what we’re going to have to navigate."
As Halikias prepares for the reopening next week, she said that looking back, she "struggled" with the shutdown, and thought it was "tough" on all the staff members.
"Librarianship isn’t a job- it’s a calling. We’re called to serve when times are tough, and to shut down services went against our nature as professionals," she said. "But it was for the greater good of the community. We understood that closing our facility was not the way we’d normally respond to a national crisis, but it was necessary. I was so proud of my staff- they continued to help people, answer phones and were doing everything they could to respond to patrons."
For more information about the Sugar Grove Public Library, visit www.sgpl.org.