As Cases Surge, Libraries Return To Curbside-Only Service

By: Brad Joyal

Topics: Chatham , Harwich , Eldredge Public Library , Brooks Free Library , Snow Library , Orleans news

Chatham's The Eldredge Public Library, along with Harwich's Brooks Free Library and Snow Library in Orleans, switch back to curbside-only service this week in reaction to the surge in coronavirus cases. TIM WOOD PHOTO

A recent uptick of coronavirus cases throughout Massachusetts and specifically on Cape Cod has led local public libraries to cut back on services for the foreseeable future. Brooks Free Library in Harwich, Eldredge Public Library in Chatham and Snow Library in Orleans all recently decided to halt in-person browsing and begin offering only curbside services.

“It was in the interest of community safety, both for our patrons and staff, as well as their families,” said Tavi Prugno, director of Snow Library. “The decision was essentially because of the coronavirus case surges, both nationally and locally, the anticipated holiday traveling and gathering despite the travel ban, and we expect an increase of visitors to the Cape for the holiday season.”

Brooks Free Library Director Ginny Hewitt and Eldredge Public Library Director Amy Andreasson also cited the increase of COVID-19 cases and the anticipated arrival of holiday visitors coming to the area as key reasons for the decision to return to curbside full time. Hewitt said Brooks Free Library had originally planned to allow in-person patrons throughout this week before switching to curbside-only services next Monday. However, that changed once she realized the surrounding libraries had already made the change this week.

“We initially planned to have inside hours all this week,” says Hewitt. “Our first day of curbside only would’ve been Dec. 21, but then we were surprised when the other libraries closed, too. If we were the only library left open from Yarmouth out to PTown, we knew we would’ve seen a lot of people this week, especially considering it would’ve been their last chance to come in.”

Instead, Brooks Free Library began offering curbside services Tuesday and will continue to do so until at least January, which is when Hewitt said the library will reassess its operations after reviewing the number of cases at the time. The recent surge wasn’t the only reason Brooks Free Library made the change, however. Hewitt said that her staff had noticed some patrons were attempting to stretch the 30-minute limit the library had placed on in-person browsing.

“Most people stayed between 10-20 minutes, but what we saw was people got acclimated and it was like the new normal,” says Hewitt. “They’d stop and chat with people they ran into or talk to staff, it wasn’t like the quick trip in to just pick some things out and then leave.”

Lingering patrons have been a concern for librarians throughout the pandemic, said Hewitt, who pointed out librarians have had to walk a tightrope between encouraging people to visit libraries while also listening to public health officials.

“That’s been the concern librarians have had all along,” she said. “We are encouraging people to be out and about and have more social contact — which is really important to them — but at the same time, we’re encouraging them as public health officials are trying to get them to not do that.”

In Chatham, Eldredge Public Library had reopened to the public in October for appointment-only visits before changing course and switching to curbside on Dec. 11, a move that will likely continue until at least the end of the month. “We’ll probably reassess at the end of December and kind of see where the numbers are,” said Andreasson.

Snow Library’s curbside offerings are available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Brooks Free Library’s curbside is available from noon to 7 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays, as well as 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Eldredge patrons can access curbside offerings Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., as well as 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. All three libraries list more information about curbside services on their respective websites, and all of the directors encouraged patrons to call their local library with any questions.

“There are curbside instructions on our website, but people can always call us on the phone,” said Andreasson. “We are always here to answer the phone, Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.”