HARWICH — The public will have greater access to Brooks Free Library beginning next week.
Changes underway include the ability for patrons to browse inside the historic library as well as several physical changes. Alcoves have been turned into more secure offices for staff and Plexiglas shields installed to separate workers from the public in compliance with COVID-19 protective measures.
The COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the library for 11 weeks, said Director Ginny Hewitt, providing no access to books and materials, but by June 1, Hewitt and the staff had developed plans for a curbside pickup service for patrons.
“It was very busy in July and August, when we did about half the volume of last year, and we were one of the busiest libraries on the Cape,” Hewitt said. “We offered quite a few hours and it was labor intense, but people have been very happy.”
The library will continue with curbside service three days a week but on Sept. 29 will begin a “Grab and Go” program allowing up to 30 patrons at a time to enter the library and browse materials for up to 30 minutes.
The plan is to start with four hours a day on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Once the logistics are worked the program will be extended to Saturdays in the near future.
The early days of the curbside service were labor intense, Hewitt said; the staff was involved in every aspect of picking books out, setting times and making calls to patrons to pick up books. The statewide library loan delivery system that shares books and materials among libraries was moving slowly and the automated system at Brooks Free Library was not set up for the necessary quarantining of books and materials.
Books returned to the library are quarantined for seven days and the library needed storage space for the laundry bins they are using being used for that, Hewitt said. It was necessary to reinvent the way things were done, but the staff stepped up and did a fantastic job, she said.
“But it would have been impossible to open up this summer. We wouldn’t have been able to handle the volume,” Hewitt said.
The staff started meeting with library officials from other towns online discussing how to move forward. “Grab and Go” is considered the next phase, but some adjustments had to be made to ensure social distancing, including the conversion of some of the library’s alcoves into offices and the addition of the Plexiglas shields around desks.
Hewitt had great praise for the members of the maintenance division in the department of public works for the retrofitting done in the library, work that will be wrapping up soon. She said Brooks Free Library has had a project on the capital plan seeking $150,000 in FY24 to enclose some of the alcoves to increase office space. The costs of retrofitting taking place now because of COVID-19 will be covered under the federal CARES Act. This work will reduce the capital plan costs for library work in FY24, Hewitt said.
When the library opens its doors to patrons on Sept. 29, Hewitt said access will be limited to the main area of the first floor. There will be no access to the children’s room. A collection of picture books, adult audio-books and non-fiction will be made available and staff members will retrieve materials from closed areas for patrons. Magazines and newspapers will not be available and there will be no seating. One computer will be available by appointment and Chromebooks are available at check-out.
Face masks that cover cover the nose and mouth must be worn while inside the library. People who for medical reasons cannot wear face masks will be served through curbside pickup or through the Books on Wheels home-bound delivery service provided by the Friends of Brooks Free Library.
“A lot of people have expressed to us they want to stay with the curbside pickup because they are within the vulnerable age group,” Hewitt said. Over the winter, once Grab and Go is available on Saturdays, curbside pickup will also be expanded to that day.
Hewitt said the staff is looking forward to the return of library patrons because they miss that personal contact.
“It will be nice to get back into business with some sense of normalcy,” she said.