The public hasn’t been allowed in Illinois’ public libraries for about two months, due to fears of spreading the coronavirus. Contact with public libraries has been limited to online services. But eventually, libraries will reopen to the public. And the staff at the Champaign and Urbana libraries are making plans for welcoming their patrons, while doing their best to minimize the risk of viral infection.
Champaign Public Library director Donna Pittman says preparations for reopening include installing plexiglass shields at checkout desks and obtaining protective gear for employees. Library patrons will be asked to wear face coverings as well.
“We’ve already arranged furniture so that people are spaced with social distancing of at least six feet or more,” said Pittman. “So for example, tables that had four chairs now have one chair.”
Amanda Standerfer with the Urbana Free Library says there may be restrictions on how library patrons can spend their time in the library, to guard against the spreading of the coronavirus in public areas.
“We may for a while do kind of a grab-and-go model, where there’s not a lot of opportunity to kind of socialize or sit around,” said Standerfer. “But it’s more just, come in browse, get your stuff and go, rather than linger.”
Preparations to guard against spreading the coronavirus also affects parts that the public doesn’t usually see. Standefer says that before launching curbside pickup service last week, the Urbana Free Library made changes in its work areas, including putting up plastic sheeting to separate people at desks from others walking by, and changing shift assignments to avoid staff numbers from getting to high at any particular time.
The launch of curbside pickup service marks the first time the Urbana and Champaign libraries have loaned out physical items since the coronavirus pandemic forced them to close their doors in mid-March. In Champaign, library director Donna Pittman said announcement of the service led to 2,000 reservations for items in one day. Outside the Champaign Public Library late Monday afternoon, security manager Brandon Stokes estimated that he and other staff members had brought books and other materials out to about 100 vehicles that day. Stokes said it was rewarding to once again see people at the library, even if they were only driving up to the entrance.
No specific date has been set for letting people back inside to browse the bookshelves. Champaign library director Pittman says they’ll take their cue for that from local and state public health officials.
We’re all anxious to reopen, whatever that looks like,” said Pittman. “Our goal will be to keep the public and our staff safe. And so that is how we will proceed. So, if people see some changes, that is why we’re making the changes.”
Jim Meadows is senior reporter for Illinois Newsroom. Follow him @WILLJimMeadows.