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‘Anxious to reopen’: Library staff preparing for upcoming changes

People stuck at home looking to have the weight of a good book in their hands haven’t had access to their local sources.

“People rely on books as a means of escape,” Warren Library Association Director Kelli Knapp said. “That’s rather important right now. That will be a big contribution, people being able to escape into a story. People also look to books for knowledge and learning and a lot of people have time for that right now.”

So, the county’s libraries are doing what they can now, and doing what they can to be ready to serve the public as they are allowed to re-open.

The association has not received authorization to open up, even on a limited basis, from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries (OCL), but personnel are taking steps.

“We’re anxious to reopen,” Knapp said. “We’re anxious to see everybody.”

Depending on one’s definition of re-opening, that may take some time. But, Knapp hopes people will have access to physical library materials soon.

So far, the OCL — a branch of the Pennsylvania Department of Education — has provided the following guidance:

“Local library reopening plans should prioritize the health and safety of both staff and the public.”

“As the basis for all reopening plans, each library must be familiar with and implement all state and federal guidelines that apply to community organizations and businesses.”

Staff at all five Warren County libraries — Sheffield, Sugar Grove, Tidioute, Warren, and Youngsville — will begin working next week to get ready for whatever public access comes next.

“We will be reopening on Monday to limited staff to get things prepared,” Knapp said.

There is much to be done.

Books that have been returned have to be in quarantine for 72 hours. After that, the books must be reshelved.

“Then we will be ready once we get approval from the state,” Knapp said. “We are all going to do a contactless pick-up.”

Library patrons will be able order materials online or by phone. Library personnel will contact the patron when their materials are ready and let them know how to pick them up.

A patron that puts a hold on a book may have to wait. In addition to the possibility that the book is already out, the quarantine will apply when it is returned.

Knapp said Warren Public Library plans to have a table set up in the entrance off of the Mid-Town parking lot. Patrons will move through the first set of doors, approach the table, and pick up their materials. Arrangements for people with disabilities will be made as necessary.

The hours and staffing levels at the libraries will not be what people have gotten used to over the years.

“People should not expect us to be open for the same hours that we have always been open,” Knapp said. Sometimes, there will be staff in the offices to answer phones. If not, “they can leave messages,” Knapp said. “We get those at home. We are replying very quickly.”

Throughout the COVID-19 shutdown, the libraries have remained active.

“We’ve had a very active Facebook presence,” Knapp said. “We’ve been providing all kinds of story time and crafts, links for museums and zoos, stories read by authors. We’ve been providing health updates regarding COVID-19.”

The library’s eBooks have been available through OverDrive, even for those who do not have a Warren Public Library card, Knapp said.

The Warren Public Library’s WiFi reaches beyond the walls and may be used by the public. “We just ask that everybody remains socially distant,” she said.

And, the libraries have been fine-free since they were forced to close.

Like the rest of society, “this has been a big learning experience for us,” she said. “We’ve been very active trying to make sure that we are still providing for people. We are learning how to provide virtual.”

“We are not going to be having any in-person events for the summer,” she said.

“The safety of the staff and our patrons is our top priority,” Knapp said. “That’s why we’re doing the things the way we are. We are going to provide the most that we possibly can for everybody in each stage.”

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