BY NANCY GAGNET | MIRROR REPORTER — This week, all branch libraries in the Toledo Lucas County Public Library system began accepting items in drop-off bins.
The action marks the beginning of a phased-in approach to reopening the library system, explained Maumee Branch Library manager Allison Fiscus.
The branches may open to the public in late June, but no firm date has been determined.
“We’re going to be working very hard over the next couple of weeks to make sure that our physical spaces are able to be used in a safe manner,” Fiscus said. “We’ve been working and researching and coming up with these methods non-stop over the past several weeks since we entered into this period of quarantine, so now we are putting it into action.”
Items checked out before the shutdown do not have to be returned this week as fines have not been accrued on those items, but the drop boxes are available for those who choose to make returns. In addition, donated face masks, which had previously been accepted at some branch library locations, including Maumee, will no longer be accepted.
Items placed in drop boxes do not have to be in plastic bags and the staff will wear protective gear while handling materials. Although virus contamination on surfaces is thought to be very low, the library will isolate all materials for 72 hours in order to further reduce such risks.
In addition to accepting items in the drop box, the library has also reimplemented “Ask a Librarian,” a library information help line to address the types of questions that would typically be asked in person, such as literature references or how to fill out an employment application.
On Monday, June 1, the library will implement curb-side pickup for materials that were placed on hold before the shutdown but never picked up. Those customers will receive a message from the library regarding items available for pickup, which will be available for three consecutive days. The curbside pickup is designed to be contactless as the materials will be in plastic bags in bins in alphabetical order outside of the library.
In mid-June, curbside service will be expanded to allow pickup of new items.
Virtual programming will also be implemented throughout the month of June with virtual book groups and Saturday morning story times available. The summer reading club is also taking place virtually from June 1 through August 1. Those signing up are asked to read 20 minutes per day for a chance to win prizes. Time spent reading can be tracked either online or by filling out a downloadable form. Yard signs for the summer reading club are also available outside the Maumee Branch Library.
Terri Carroll, the director of communications, innovation and strategy at Toledo Lucas County Public Library, said that reopening the library system is taking place in a slow, purposeful way to ensure it is done correctly.
“What we don’t want to do is give our customers a product that is frustrating, especially with all of the frustrations that people have right now,” she said. “We want to do a little test to try to make sure that we manage the system efficiently before we open it up more broadly.”
Custodial staff began cleaning the spaces last week and the library also put together a safe work playbook, which is a 38-page manual dedicated to how all staff will play a part in keeping the library disinfected.
While firm dates for fully opening each branch library to the public have not yet been set, opening is tentatively scheduled for the end of June, depending on the status of coronavirus cases as restrictions ease, Carroll said.
“We will keep it under advisement,” she said. “Since we see 3 million people a year through our library doors, we consider our space as high-risk and we don’t want to put anybody in our community at risk by being too hasty. The temporary inconvenience and frustration we hope will pay dividends in the long run.”
According to Fiscus, the library has relied heavily on guidance from the CDC and research to ensure proper safety.
“Libraries face an interesting hurdle because we don’t really fall well into any of the categories of business or institutions that the governor has set out. In some ways, we are retail, but you don’t typically go into a retail establishment and return everything that you purchased. Libraries across the country are sharing best practices and helping each other, but we are making this up with guidance because we are so invested in providing good service,” Fiscus said.
“The end of June may seem a long way away, but like Terri said, we want to make something that is sustainable,” she added.
For additional information about online programming or the summer reading club, please visit https://www.toledolibrary.org/.
The phone number to call for “Ask the Librarian” is (419) 259-5200.