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Scott G Winterton, KSL

They’re back! Salt Lake libraries reopen doors with limited services

By Daedan Olander, KSL | Posted - Sep. 21, 2020 at 8:02 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — After closing its doors to the public six months ago on March 14, the Salt Lake City Public Library system reopened all eight of its locations Monday to offer express services.

Each branch is now open Mondays through Saturdays, from noon to 6 p.m., and services include “30-minute computer sessions, access to fax/copy machines, holds pickup, item return and reference assistance,” according to a library news release.

“We are delighted to be able to open our doors safely and welcome our community back inside our buildings. While we have been able to circulate materials the last few months using Holds To-Go, we miss our patrons, and we are excited to see them in-person again,” Peter Bromberg, the executive director of the library system, said in a statement.

The library was allowed to reopen after Salt Lake City transitioned to the yellow or low-restriction phase in Utah’s color-coded guide to the COVID-19 pandemic. In-house express services are just one step in the library’s broader plans to return to full capacity, and it will continue to expand services as Salt Lake City progresses toward normalcy and reopening.

“We’re following the city’s lead as far as moving through these phases. And so once we’re back to green, that will be full services,” said Quinn Smith, the assistant director of marketing and communications for the library. “When we move to green, we expect that regular hours resume, that building occupancy returns and we will no longer be metered.”

She also said seating areas and study rooms, which are currently closed, will be reopened in the green or “new normal” phase, but in-person events will likely have to wait until 2021.

The library came up with its own plan for a phased reopening — which the city supported — as it doesn’t fall squarely in any one business category.

“We are between categories, I would say,” Smith said. “Because we are almost retail, but we are also almost in the museum or arts category as well as far as what the city has dictated as far as those different segments for reopening procedures.”

An employee at the Main Library in Salt Lake City pushes a cart between shelves of books on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, KSL)

The library’s current status in the yellow restriction phase means that only the first floor of the Salt Lake Main Library is open to patrons, and while people may place holds for items and then pick them up, they are not allowed to browse the shelves and handle books they aren’t planning to check out.

To continue to give people access to resources, the library has offered curbside pickup even while its buildings have been closed. After people arrive to pick up their items, library workers place the resources in the backs of cars for contactless transactions.

Once the items are returned, workers place them in bags in a specified quarantined area for three days before processing them back into the system.

The practice has worked well, and patrons are appreciative of the library’s initiative and thoughtfulness.

“I missed being able to check out books and having to find books online was a little bit cumbersome,” said Mary Olson, who was picking up materials in person Monday. “But the fact that they reopened and did the curbside service I thought was great.”

Patrons use computers at the Main Library in Salt Lake City on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, KSL)

“Kudos to them for coming up with that idea, because it is a lot of work.”

However, unlike books and movies, some resources the public library offers cannot be utilized without the buildings being open, including computers.

Harvey Dunn was at the library when it opened Monday, and he was able to quickly find a computer and get help from a library worker as he looked for jobs online — something he hasn’t been able to do since the library closed.

“I can’t get access to anything on a computer, and I don’t have a laptop,” he explained. As a result, he said he’s been “lazy” and “bored” for the past several months, which is uncharacteristic for him.

Before the pandemic caused the library to close, he said he usually visited multiple times each week.

“I think people often have this slightly antiquated view of libraries: that we just circulate books and that’s it. And while obviously we do circulate a lot of physical materials, we also provide so much more to our communities,” Smith said. “With computer access, the digital divide is serious and is one that we are also working to amend here in Salt Lake.”

“It might be as simple as just checking Facebook and telling your family that you’re doing OK or responding to email and messages,” she added. “And so that was another thing that we recognized we really needed to move toward when we were looking at express services is how can we make sure that we’re opening up our computers, because that’s kind of that last piece that the community isn’t able to get really anywhere else, especially for free.”

To keep their computer keyboards sanitary, library workers placed them inside see-through cases so no one’s hands make direct contact. Hand sanitizing stations are also spread throughout the building, and workers ensure that public areas and surfaces are disinfected regularly and that social distancing and wearing masks are enforced.

“If you don’t want to wear a mask or you are unable to, we are still happy to help you, but we will just ask that that patron remain outside, and then we will grab whatever materials that they need and bring them out to them,” Smith said.

The precautions made many librarygoers feel safe on opening day.

“Yeah, I think it is definitely good. There are definitely a lot of signs that are really helpful. And I like that they keep the keyboards covered and things like that,” said Daniel Nunez, who was using a library computer to print out documents. “It definitely feels good and good to be here and safe.”

As Utah continues to battle against a pandemic, the library will continue to evaluate the needs of the community and work to meet them while also being safe and responsible, Smith said.

“We’re more than books. We are a community space, we are a resource, we can answer everything from questions about the census to questions about how to navigate through the online learning platforms and help parents and also help you respond to an email or apply to a job, you know? It’s everything under the sun.”

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