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Libraries Recovering From COVID-19

By ROBERT A.

DEFRANK

Staff Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic has made an impact on area libraries, changing how these public outlets serve the community. A casual patrol visiting a local library cannot help but notice new additions such as masks, clear partitions and the simple act of taking a book down from the shelves now requires patrons to set it aside to be cleaned before it can be replaced.

With the end of the pandemic hopefully within sight, area libraries are taking stock of their programs and outreach efforts and how to continue offering both in-person and online activities in the future.

Stephanie Hilfiker, reference librarian with the Belmont County District Library, said the goal is to be as safe as possible while being as normal as possible.

“We’re going to be continuing the things we are already doing. The health and safety of our patrons and the people here at the library are very important to us. We’re going to continue quarantining the books for four days and cleaning them before we put them away,” she said.

“We also are hoping to resume our programming in person in March. As part of that, we’re going to do temperature checks. We’re going to do limited attendance so we can make sure to stick to the social distancing guidelines. We’ll have people required to wear masks as they do now in the library,” she said, adding pre-registration will also be a requirement for the programs.

“As for the actual programs themselves, those are going to vary,” Hilfiker said, adding programs will be placed on the library’s Facebook page as they are scheduled. “We’re very excited for resuming some of those in-person programs. What little we can do.”

She hopes to resume popular crafting programs. There will likely not be in-person speakers, but Bingo and trivia programs may also make a comeback on weekends.

Hilfiker said prior to the holidays, the library had resumed some in-person programming and patrons found them very popular.

“As much as everybody wants to stay safe and healthy, I think they’re ready to get out a bit more,” she said. “We’ve heard responses from people. We’ve heard how excited they are.”

At the St. Clairsville District, Director Doug Walsh and staff have worked toward making the library a resource central to community life.

“We’re continuing to purchase (personal protective equipment) for visitors to the library and doing things to make the services that we provide during COVID safe and reliable,” Walsh said. He pointed out services such as automatic doors openers and newly-installed curbside lockers for 24/7 pickup.

“We’re looking at summer reading,” he said. “Hopefully perhaps by summer we could be at a state where we can return to a somewhat normal situation. That’s our busiest time, during the summer, so we hope to have lots of programs.”

Online tools have enabled the library to continue some programs.

“We adjusted what we could to a virtual state,” Walsh said. “The attendance and participation in those book clubs is just the same as it was before. They go into Zoom and discuss the book in that manner. We’re starting a children’s program, a preschool book club as well, and that’ll be virtual.”

Walsh noted one recent virtual visit to the Pittsburgh Zoo and an upcoming antiques roadshow.

“People can from their home show something, an antique, a family heirloom and get it appraised. We’re looking for virtual programs that are interactive and can appear to all ages,” Walsh said.

“Libraries right now are quarantining books and videos when they are returned. It’s a lot of extra work. St. Clairsville keeps them in bins four days before we get them ready for the next person to borrow. We also keep our newspapers out for just one day rather than in a stack for a whole week,” he said.

“Also, people are borrowing a lot more online books and audiobooks in 2020, and we are using more of our budget to buy ebooks. People are finding how convenient it is to get things from the library without leaving home. I think that trend will continue long after covid is done. Besides e-books we added streaming music and movies that people can borrow from the library online. We also set things up so that people can get a new library card online.”

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