Michigan libraries slowly reopen with new restrictions



Last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order giving libraries across Michigan the green light to reopen on Monday. Wait — not so fast! You will be able to get a haircut before you can check out a book.

After talking last week with the head librarians at the Library of Michigan and at the East Lansing and Capital Area District Library systems, I learned that reopening won’t come overnight, but will be more like watching tomato plants grow.

Generally, libraries will follow rules similar to those given to retailers, which require social distancing, employee and customer safety and myriad other reopening requirements.

But as CADL chief Scott Duimstra, Kristin Shelley, East Lansing chief librarian; and state librarian Randy Riley all agree: “Things are not going back to normal any time soon.”

Libraries across Michigan have canceled all in-person events for an undetermined time, and those cuddly corners for children are all but closed with the stuffed animals packed away. All library patrons will now be required to wear masks.

Duimstra said there is a lot of work to do before libraries can be hands on again.

“We’ve been closed for three months with no employees or patrons in the building. We have to install things like sneeze barriers and arrange for social distancing,” he said.

He also said all CADL system’s 250 employees at 13 branches will have to undergo safety training.

A major problem for libraries will be arranging for the books and other media to be returned.

“All returned material will have to be quarantined for 72 hours to assure there is no active virus,” Duimstra said.

Shelley said space is a problem for the East Lansing Library when it comes to quarantining books and to assure employees safety.

“There are narrow hallways and desks are close together,” she said. “The maker space and public meeting space will be closed. The bookstore, staffed by volunteers, will also be closed for the time being,” Shelley said.

One problem with reopening might be the scarcity of personal protective equipment, or PPE.

“PPE is very expensive and difficult to find,” Shelley said. “We also will need mouse and keyboard covers for patron safety.”

Both library systems expect to spend the first week reorganizing and reconfiguring their buildings. Barring any problems, both systems will first implement contactless pickup. The East Lansing Library will implement curbside pickup Monday and mail delivery the following week.

The CADL Library systems will allow patrons to begin returning books and media on Monday with curbside or door pickup commencing on June 22 with limited hours. Check both system’s websites for detailed information.

“We will have contactless door pickup or pop-the-trunk to help create a safe space for employees,” Duimstra said. CADL and East Lansing libraries are requiring employees to self-administer health screening tests.

“People are apprehensive about coming back,” he said. That may be a good thing, since patrons will be limited to 30 minutes in library buildings after they are allowed back. Both library systems are fluid about the timing for limited and full reopening plans, which require extensive reconfiguration.

Duimstra said it’s important to realize libraries have some unique circumstances — the most obvious being patrons take books and media with them and then return them. Also, CADL libraries generally have patron computers on top of each other, which will change dramatically.

Local libraries have turned to the Library of Michigan and the Michigan Library Association for advice on reopening. Both organizations have been working with the governor’s office on reopening, sharing experiences and ideas on Zoom. There are an estimated 650 public libraries in Michigan and another 397 academic and Tribal libraries.

“Libraries are so different,” said Debbie Mikula, executive director of the Michigan Library Association. “All libraries have to abide by federal and state regulations including the open meetings act and privacy guidelines.”

Mikula said libraries have to deal with falling revenues, including potential reductions in funding from state aid, the penal fund and millages.

State librarian Riley said all libraries will have to consider whether stacks will be open, and if librarians will go back to a time when they retrieved books on call for patrons. Also, under review is how Libraries will be able to allow safe access to archival material.

Librarians universally agree, according to Mikula, that libraries will have to accelerate “shifting resources to a digital age.” By this she means high-speed digital access for patrons.

“It isn’t an option anymore — it’s a must have. We learned during this crisis so many people don’t have digital access at home,” Duimstra said.

During the crisis, both the East Lansing Library and CADL left their Wi-Fi on 24 hours a day, so people could pull into the parking lots to access the web.


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