Pitkin County Library to reopen Monday after six-month COVID-19 closure | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County Library to reopen Monday after six-month COVID-19 closure

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
George Falk picks up and drops off his library books on the using curbside services at the Pitkin County Library in Aspen on Wednesday, May 13, 2020. “The library is my favorite spot,” said Falk. “I’m so glad they opened again!” Falk said he utilizes the library a couple times a month. According to the Pitkin County Library blog, all books will be “quarantined” before being checked-in. The library opened curbside services on May 9. All checked out books can be picked up in the entry way to the main entrance. The books are organized by last name and wrapped in plastic. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The doors of the Pitkin County Library will reopen to the public Monday for the first time since mid-March, when the novel coronavirus pandemic forced its closure.

“It’s a sense of relief and expectation,” library director Kathy Chandler said Friday. “Everybody is very excited to take this next step.”

Patrons will be limited to visiting for 30 minutes, but all three floors of the library will be open, as will the children’s area, self-checkout stands and public computers, printers and scanners.

Meeting rooms and the Library Lab will remain closed. Eating and drinking will not be permitted. Masks will be required and social distancing standards will be in place.

The reopening plan allows for the public to walk in at will, without appointments, with the expectation that visits are short. Most furniture has been removed from the facility. The popular children’s toys, dress-up area and seating area also have been taken out. No more than 10 people will be allowed in the children’s area at a time.

“We are concerned about how many people will be in the children’s area at one time,” Chandler said.

She is hopeful that the library will be able to proceed without requiring people to schedule times for visits and without turning people away.

“We may have to do appointments, but we are hoping not to,” Chandler said.

After a full closure of its building March 15, the library later opened a modified computer lab for public use and began a curbside checkout service, through which people could check out books online or over the phone and pick them up at the library entrance. All books have been quarantined following checkout during this period. With reopening, they will no longer be quarantined. Instead, the library will place notices in books that have recently been used, so readers are aware they’ve been touched by others.

Chandler and library leaders decided to reopen in late August, when the county “coronameter” dropped for the “comfortable” level for the first time since officials began tracking local infections. That development coincided with the Colorado Library Association issuing new guidelines for reopening.

The county library is following what’s informally been called the “walkthrough” model for libraries during the pandemic, which provides most resources as in normal times but encourages patrons to keep their visits short.

“This is more like going to the grocery store,” Chandler said. “You can’t sit down and make yourself at home.”

While that decision was made in the interest of the health and safety of library staff and users, Chandler said it’s also a painful change of mission for her team as the library building and its programs were remodeled and redesigned over the past decade to encourage long visits and using the library as a “third place” outside the home and office. Reopening does not mean going back to that model.

“It’s low risk to run it this way, versus having someone siting there who has the virus for a very long time and possibly infecting people without knowing it,” Chandler said.

Despite the long closure, the library has not furloughed or laid off any of its 25 employees. The library needed all hands on deck, Chandler said, to develop and connect people with its vast online resources during the springtime lockdown, then to administer the personal service of curbside checkout and the computer lab, as well as preparing the facility to reopen safely. Staff who primarily work the checkout desks, she said, also lent a hand to the county’s Health and Human Services department to administer its emergency relief funds.