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Upper Valley libraries re-opening to patrons

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/18/2021 9:00:05 PM
Modified: 7/20/2021 9:31:50 PM

After more than a year of being physically closed to the public, libraries throughout the Upper Valley are opening their doors once again.

“They haven't been storming the doors, but sure we've been seeing a lot of old faces that we've missed this past year,” said Nancy Tusinski, director of the Hartland Public Library, which fully reopened to the public earlier this month. “It's a big homecoming … for some of our patrons and for us as well.”

The Hartland library is asking patrons to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, because the library’s youngest visitors cannot be vaccinated at this time. A couple months prior to reopening, patrons were able to make appointments to visit the library. As the rate of the virus slowed and vaccination rates increased, fully reopening became more of a possibility.

“We listened to the science,” Tusinski said. 

Like the Hartland Public Library, the Lebanon Libraries initially started out slowly when it reopened the Kilton Public Library in downtown West Lebanon June 14, director Sean Fleming said. Library officials put a capacity limit in place and a half-hour time limit, which they stopped after a week. (The Lebanon Library in downtown Lebanon remains closed for renovations that should be concluded in September.)

“We didn’t do appointments. We did do limitations on the number of people in the building for the first week, but then quickly realized the building wasn’t getting even close to that capacity so we fairly quickly dispensed with that,” Fleming said. Everyone is required to wear a mask, regardless if they’ve been vaccinated or not. “We’re a library system that tries to not say no to people if we can and we also just try to provide services in the best way that we can so they seemed like unnecessary restrictions.”

Meeting rooms remain closed for now, as staffers work to upgrade the audiovisual equipment and come up with a better scheduling system. Anecdotally, Fleming said the number of patrons visiting the library is down in comparison to visits prior to the pandemic, though he has a noticed an uptick in the last couple of weeks. Some people are reluctant to come back due to concerns about the coronavirus and, as Fleming noted, a good portion of their patrons cannot be vaccinated because they are younger than 12. Children’s programs have been held outside.

As patrons have returned, Fleming said they haven’t missed using the library’s computers. They’ve missed walking through the rows of books.

“I heard a lot of people say that that was something they missed a lot during the pandemic,” he said.

The Howe Library in Hanover reopened for appointments in early July and plans on reopening for drop-ins in early August. The biggest challenge will be reducing the library’s takeout services, said Rubi Simon, director of the Howe. Between print materials and e-books, the library averages 11,000 items circulated a month.

“We’re hoping to transition that out,” Simon said. All of the library’s meeting rooms are being used by staffers to sort and compile items. “We’re assuming once we open there will be less takeout requests.”

Visitors will be required to wear masks, regardless if they’re vaccinated. In-person programs are scheduled to return, but that will largely depend on patrons’ needs.

“It’s also going to depend on the community and what that comfort level is. We’re very sensitive to the fact that 12 and under aren’t vaccinated yet,” Simon said. “That’s a large group of our users in the building that we need to be aware of.”

Like the Howe, the Enfield Public Library is not open for drop-ins. Instead, officials there are asking people to call before dropping by in case there are patrons there who made appointments and do not feel comfortable sharing the 3,000-square-foot space.

“We haven’t had an overwhelming demand for appointments so often people call and say ‘can I come in?’ and we say ‘we’re open now, come in,’ ” librarian Melissa Hutson said. The patrons who make appointments often have young children who cannot be vaccinated. “We are finding there’s a larger number of people than we expected who aren’t ready to come back in.”

Staffers wear masks, but leave it up to patrons to decide what they’re comfortable with. The library, which reopened for patrons June 1, is also looking to fill two part-time positions.

“Like a lot of people, we had staff retire due to the pandemic,” Hutson said. “Those jobs are posted, but we know what hiring is like right now. Everyone is looking for people right now.”

The Norwich Public Library also reopened in early June, starting with appointments for its upstairs section for adults and the children’s section, which is in a large room in the basement.

The library now allows free access for patrons, who don’t need an appointment.

“Appointments put some people off. That seems to be a barrier for some people,” assistant director Lisa Milchman said. “Once we opened it up … I think people felt more comfortable coming in.”

Everyone is required to wear a mask at the Norwich library regardless of vaccination status. The meeting room space, located in the basement, is currently closed as staffers work to redesign it, but the goal is to have it available for community groups after Labor Day. That’s when staff library officials also aim to start holding indoor programs. Currently, programs for children and adults have been held in the Norwich library’s garden. Patrons have shown a desire for staff to continue virtual programs and staffers are working to figure out a hybrid model that allows for online and in-person participation.

“It’s gradually gotten busier,” Milchman said. “I don’t think we’re anywhere near the visits that we had pre-pandemic, but I think with each week it seems to pick up a little bit.”

The librarians all agreed that some version of takeout or curbside services would continue as they proved so popular during the pandemic.

“It has been very busy for us,” Hutson said, adding that staffers in the Enfield library put together 180 takeout bags in June, the same number as May when it remained closed. “It’s still very much an in-demand service.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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