Book-lovers can go back to visiting libraries in Simsbury and Newington later this month for the first time since the coronavirus shutdown in mid-March, but they should expect changes.
Both libraries anticipate reduced hours and restricted services, much like what other Connecticut libraries are offering. Newington will allow browsing only by appointment, for instance, while Simsbury will open only Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Most libraries in the state have opened at least to some degree, but exactly what the means varies from town to town.
Some let people browse through the books, others permit brief use of computers, a few even let strictly limited numbers of people stay to read.
“A lot of this may be related to local health metrics,” said Chris Lindquist, director of Farmington’s library. “In many cases libraries are consulting with local health directors. We don’t want to be a vector."
Farmington allows visitors to browse the new book section, but otherwise has closed off its stacks, offering pickup of requested titles. And that’s not likely to change this year.
“Browsing in the stacks is not going to happen any time soon, probably not until a vaccine is widely available," he said.
"Each town is different. We have a big building — 52,000 square feet — with lots of nooks and crannies, so it would be very difficult to monitor that people are maintaining social distancing,” Lindquist said.
In Bloomfield, visitors may schedule time to use a copier, printer, computer or fax machine, but the stacks are closed and all book pickups are done curbside.
Wethersfield’s library is open just four hours a day Monday to Saturday, though it also reopens Monday and Tuesday nights for four hours. Browsing is allowed, but visitors are asked to stay no more than 20 minutes.
Patrons can look for books to check out from Middletown’s Russell Library, but there’s a “grab and go” policy: There’s no seating.
Manchester’s Mary Cheney Library is open Saturdays and most weeknights — a rarity — and no appointments are necessary. But restrooms are closed, and all chairs have been removed,
Meanwhile, there’s no admission at all to the Burlington and Meriden libraries. All services are done online or through curbside pickup and dropoff.
Virtually all libraries have closed off their public meeting rooms, but a few — including Farmington — offer limited space in their teen area.
“We know there are some teens studying exclusively at home. We’re allowing six teens in, literally with tape on the floors so each individual studies at a safe distance,” Lindquist said.
West Hartford, one of central Connecticut’s busiest libraries, allows browsing by appointment only for half-hour periods. Daily schedules are reduced from last year, with no night hours.
One of the big lessons of the pandemic is that contactless curbside pickup is enormously popular, said Interim Director Carol Waxman.
“Since June, we’ve booked 11,000 curbside appointments. People like it because many are still not comfortable going inside. It’s completely contactless and a very well-used service,” Waxman said. “We can’t be open for full service, but we’re open as much as we can be."
All classes and presentations at the library are being done virtually.
In Farmington, Lindquist said suspending group gatherings has been hard for everyone.
“Libraries are community centers, they’re places where people come to attend programs and use the meeting rooms to meet with friends and neighbors,” he said. “I wish we could allow in-person programming. I know people are hoping for the day when they can return for that.”
Don Stacom can be reached at email@example.com.
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