After more than two months of patrons grabbing plastic bags of books and mixed media from a table set outside the Portage Public Library, the building will reopen Monday.
Director Debbie Bird said the service they had been offering was functional, but that people wanted more out of their library.
“Curbside was fairly popular, but it’s because it’s all they had,” Bird said. “People are so excited. They just need this.”
Before mid-November, when the facility shut down over concerns due to growing numbers of COVID-19 cases and then impending family holiday celebrations, the library had been allowing in a limited number of patrons to ensure safety and maintain mandated protocol from the state. But since that has changed, Bird said they plan to reopen without any stated capacity restrictions. If there are too many people to safely social distance, she said they will address the problem in the moment.
The library will still adhere to safety restrictions during the pandemic. Masks, sanitizing and social distancing will be monitored, Bird said.
Teen Services and Technology Coordinator Chris Baker said the reopening is needed to help people currently struggling with the impact of COVID-19 by providing resources to aid in housing, employment and food assistance applications.
Part of the return will include in-person limited in capacity programming. Bird said that instead of offering the programs during library hours, the facility will close early to allow groups to use the space without the addition of daily patrons. The gatherings will also be offered before the library opens in the morning.
“The idea is that we will limit and restrict the numbers, and if we need to, we’re just going to offer more of the same program,” Bird said.
Every service usually provided by the library will be reinstated with the exception of meeting room access, she said. Children’s programming will largely remain virtual.
While shut down to the public, library staff used their time creating improvements for patrons. Polymer glass sheets were added to the circulation desks to separate patrons and workers. Two self-checkout machines, which are touchscreens, were added to the main library. One was also installed in the children’s department. They reorganized some racks to make them more user-friendly after complaints from patrons, created more space by removing stacks and added programs for teens to encourage reading through incentives.
In the meantime, they have been offering what they can through the aid of technology.
Children’s Clerk Angie Tomlinson said she and Children’s Librarian Dawn Foster have been adjusting to the added work required for the preparation of virtual programs rather than in-person ones. The pair turned the large program room in the children’s department into a makeshift studio, with Foster reading to the camera and Tomlinson filming herself performing the steps of making assorted crafts weekly.
Bird said she and the staff are looking forward to seeing patrons in the building again.
“I think the community is pretty happy about it too,” Bird said. “They don’t want us to just bring out to the curb what they put on hold. They want to walk through the stacks and they want to feel the books and see what’s out there.”
The library will continue to offer curbside pick-up services for those who request it, but Bird said it just was not enough to provide meaningful services to the public.
“There are only so many things that curbside could offer,” Bird said. “And it missed a whole range of other options.”
Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget or contact her at 608-745-3513.