Though the Central Arkansas Library System is in the middle of reopening all of its branches since closing them in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, patrons visiting their local branch will see some changes.
Monday, June 22, marked week three of CALS's reopening strategy, with the Children’s, Thompson and Williams libraries opening for the first time. The system’s largest branches, the Terry and Main libraries will open last on June 29.
Lisa Donovan is the deputy executive director of library operations for CALS. She said when deciding how they would reopen the branches, they didn’t want to open all of them at the same time and overwhelm themselves with the added precautions and restrictions.
"The strategy has been to try to start slow, tweak our procedures if needed and kind of learn by doing," Donovan said.
Though the Main and Terry libraries were the first to offer curbside, they are also the last to open to the public. Donovan says while the size of the branches is a reason for the later opening, there were also other factors.
"The Terry Library patrons have really embraced the curbside service that we’ve been offering so the strategy was also about providing services at libraries where maybe the curbside wasn’t as popular," Donovan said.
All of the branches, once open, will limit the number of patrons along with reserving the first part of the day for people who have a higher risk for COVID-19 complications. From 9 a.m. until 10 a.m., those 65 and older or others who are at-risk will be allowed inside, with a few branches extending that time from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m..
Donovan said they looked to other businesses who offer a similar service to older shoppers and wanted to offer a similar window to those who are most vulnerable.
"We feel like first thing in the morning, nobody’s been in the library. We’ve got it clean, our cleaning service is coming in the night before and it just seemed like a good thing to do. We have a lot of patrons who are in that category, in that age category," Donovan said.
Each of the branches will be limiting its capacity and of the number of those allowed inside, half will be for walk-ins and the other half will be for patrons who reserved a time in advance.
Patrons must wear a mask at all times and no one under the age 16 will be allowed inside without an accompanying adult.
One service again available for patrons, other than the ability to check out materials in person, is computer access. Donovan said CALS found out how important computer access was for patrons while testing a program at one of its branches.
"We tried to figure out a way to offer computer access and we did a pilot program at the Nixon Library because we were looking at how many people were getting on the Wi-Fi just by walking up to the library and signing on while we were closed and we realized that a lot of people in Jacksonville need computer access," Donovan said.
According to CALS, some of the technology services again available, other than browsing, include: scanning, printing and photocopying. Information on CALS’s new guidelines can be found on its website.
As far as how the public has reacted to the gradual reopening, Donovan said though there hasn’t been an overwhelming number of patrons visiting the branches on a daily basis, the number has been steady, with some patrons having to wait a few minutes to enter the building.
While the system is in the process of reopening, Donovan said they are prepared to close again, if needed, depending on the severity of the coronavirus in central Arkansas.
"We’re constantly talking about these numbers. We are looking for ways to keep everybody safe, especially our patrons, but also our staff. So…we’re watching the numbers and making decisions almost on a daily basis about moving forward or pulling back," Donovan said.