Public libraries in Baraboo and Portage will reopen Tuesday with various restrictions and safety measures in place after being closed since March, offering only curbside services for the last month.
“We are excited. We are ecstatic,” said Debbie Bird, Portage library director. “The staff is so eager to reconnect with the community. They felt a little better when we were offering curbside, but now that we’ve been offering that for a while, they’re ready to step it up to the next level. ... We just love the idea of being there to support our community and to offer what we’ve always been able to offer.”
Starting Tuesday, the Portage library will begin the first phase of its reopening plan, which will allow a maximum of 10 people — including staff — in the building at a time for 30-minute appointments during limited hours to accommodate cleaning between visits. Patrons must reserve appointments and will be able to browse the library’s collection, read newspapers and use the fax machine and computers.
The second phase would allow 50 people in the library at a time, but Bird said the timing depends on whether local COVID-19 cases spike.
“This is our initial attempt and we’re hoping that we get smarter about it and get more efficient,” she said. “I think that we’re hoping as we navigate this that we continue to improve services, maybe relax some of the protocols, but right now we want to start with this.
“It’s a mystery to all of us on how this is going to work exactly, and we hope that everybody can just remain patient with us and understand that we’re trying to offer as much as possible without risking anybody’s health.”
Baraboo’s library director, Jessica Bergin, created a slightly different plan. It includes returning the library to its standard hours starting Tuesday with a full staff, but still no volunteers, and limiting the total number of visitors at any time to 10. Groups and children will be allowed, but a library staff member will count visitors and direct patrons to wait outside if the total reaches 10. The back entrance will be closed.
Bergin said patrons can browse and check out materials from the children’s department, though the play areas will remain closed.
Both libraries will have hand sanitizer available throughout their buildings and staff will be required to wear masks or face shields. In Baraboo, plexiglas dividers around their desks will limit exposure between patrons and employees, Bergin said.
“Our No. 1 priority is to keep staff and visitors safe, so we do have a sanitizing schedule set up where we’re sanitizing things like door handles and stair rails and all of that kind of high-touch stuff ... on a regular basis,” she said.
Because Portage will be limiting entry, Bird said staff will be able to monitor and later clean items that patrons use, such as computers and surfaces. Items they touch while browsing will be quarantined, and high-touch surfaces will be frequently wiped down. Restrooms will be open, she said.
Bird said Portage is looking into getting plexiglas barriers but has found them difficult to acquire due to high demand.
Patrons won’t be required to wear masks or practice social distancing at either library, but both directors said they are requesting people do so voluntarily.
“We are strongly encouraging patrons to wear masks,” Bird said. “We cannot offer masks to them, so I don’t feel that we can enforce that, but we’re hoping by our own exercising of safety, using the masks ourselves and asking people to do that as well as social distancing, we’re hoping that people will just take our lead on this.”
Also hoping to keep in-library visits available to those who need to use computers, want to browse the collection or use other services that can’t leave the building, Bird said the library will continue to offer curbside assistance. Baraboo also plans to continue curbside requests.
Their in-house collections remain the majority of what they can loan because the South Central Library System, which usually can exchange materials between libraries, is making infrequent deliveries.
Bergin said the Baraboo library can still request items from other libraries, but fulfilling them could take a “long time.” In Portage, however, Bird said the materials that ended up there from other libraries during the closure will be used to fulfill local requests before being returned to their original library.
At both libraries, book drops are currently open and returned materials quarantined for three days before being mixed back into their collections, a practice meant to ensure no live viruses remain. Bergin said patrons should use the outdoor book drop on the Baraboo building’s alley side to help staff manage quarantine procedures.
After months of being closed, she said she’s looking forward to welcoming patrons back. She added that many people have said they need access to a computer, printer or fax machine.
“We consider a lot of our library patrons our friends, so it’ll be nice to start seeing people again,” Bergin said. “Plus, people are just really excited to be able to browse in the library again.”
Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.
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