Public library looks at return to normality

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Early on in the pandemic, the library closed its doors to the public for nearly a month and relied on curbside service to offer books and resources to its patrons.

Over the year and a half, many groups and organizations have had to adapt to a world amid the COVID-19 pandemic. From closing public spaces to moving to curbside delivery models, businesses and other organizations made changes to their everyday operations in hope of slowing the spread of the disease.

Now, the Sherman Public Library is looking to return to some level of normality, or as much of one as can be achieved, as the threat of the pandemic still lingers.  Library officials said this week that the facility will be moving past some COVID restrictions while still maintaining safety for its patrons.

"We are not back to normal," Library Services Administrator Melissa Eason said. "We do not know what is going to happen with regard to COVID and all of the variants. We are still trying to be careful moving forward."

Early on in the pandemic, the library closed its doors to the public for nearly a month and relied on curbside service to offer books and resources to its patrons. Even after in-person service resumed, some restrictions were put in place. Masks were required in the library, the number of computers that were available to the public were reduced and many of the programs offered by the library were suspended.

Fines for late returns were also eliminated to reduce some of the pressure for people to come back into public places.

"Some of the things we've been working to do are to fully add things back are related to seating, not requiring masks, adding children's computers, adult computers," Eason said. "Some of those things were cut so that we wouldn't be crowded. We wanted to encourage people to come, get what they need done and leave, quickly.

"Whereas, now we are trying to add things back, but at the same time still leave room for spacing."

Other changes that were put in place are likely to stay around for the foreseeable future. The library extended its checkout periods so that people wouldn't need to return their book as quickly. Fines for late returns were also eliminated to reduce some of the pressure for people to come back into public places.

"Some of these things we will likely keep for some time," Eason added. "The plexiglass in front of the desk will likely be kept for a while."

One of the larger changes that will be staying is the use of Radio-Frequency Identification for book check out and check in. The process uses small tags inside the books that are scanned at check out or check in. The library was already in the process of moving to this technology, but the pandemic hastened the transition, Eason said.

"It helps with inventory and quicker check out and things like that," she said. "So, people who want to check out their items themselves will and are able to do that."

With ongoing fears of a second wave of infections due to variants of the COVID-19 virus, Eason noted that these plans could easily change. However, she said the current plans are to continue to move forward with cautious optimism.

"Of course there are concerns," she said. "We are watching numbers and trying to make sure we are keeping up with what is going on and that we are realistic."

Visitors play the instruments that are installed in Harmony Music Park outside of the Sherman Public Library. The library announced this week, it will lessen some of its COVID -19 related restrictions while keeping some in place.