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Springfield Branch Libraries Reopen

a sign welcoming people back to the East Forest Park Library
Paul Tuthill

As pandemic-era restrictions have eased and COVID cases continue to remain low in Massachusetts, Springfield this week reopened its seven branch libraries. 

Springfield library employees welcomed people back to their neighborhood libraries for the first time in more than 15 months.

At the East Forest Park Branch Library, Stella Morgan came in with her two daughters to return books they’d borrowed in March 2020 just before the libraries closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"They kept reading the same books over and over again until they got tired, and they're like ' Oh, I've read it like five times, I'm so tired.'," said Morgan.  "So, we are thrilled that it is open that they can pick out some books and read and explore."

During the shutdown of the library buildings, curbside pickup of books and other materials was offered, reference services were available online, and downloads of ebooks and streaming movies grew in frequency, said Matthew Jaquith, the supervising librarian at East Forest Park.

"Some people were not able to make the transition to an electronic service and we did miss them and they missed us," said Jaquith. "We stayed in touch through  email and telephone for those who were not able to use a more rich digital service."

City officials are confident it is safe to reopen the branch libraries, said Jean Canosa Albano, Assistant Director for Public Services at the Springfield City Library.

"We are fortunate that cases are down, so we felt it was the right time to open the doors in consultation with all the experts ... and people are just sreaming in. They can't wait," said Canosa Albano.

New air filtration machines have been installed in each library building.

Following the recommendation of health officials, the hours the libraries are open to the public have been reduced to weekday afternoons and Saturdays, 11 a.m to 3 p.m.   No in-person activities such as book clubs are being scheduled inside the buildings.    The libraries are following CDC guidelines when it comes to face-masks, said Canosa Albano.

"People who are not vaccinated are still encouraged to wear a mask, but we won't be throwing anybody out for not wearing a mask," she said. "When you come in you may see a staff member masked-up or not masked-up."

The libraries will continue to provide curbside pickup.  Using federal COVID relief money, mobile wifi hot spot devices are being obtained to expand public access to the library’s digital offerings.

"Some of the things we learned over the time of the shutdown were that it was really handy for a lot of people, convenient, or desirable to attend programs virtually, so we will be making a balance between in-person and virtual and offering options there," said Canosa Albano.  "As always, we continue assessing to see what people are really interested in."

While some of the changes put in place because of the pandemic could become permanent, Canosa Albano said there will be no replacing the experience of a visit to the local library.

"It is very tactile," she said.  "And people come in and see people that they know, or they come in and meet people they didn't know and it is not so easy to do that online."

On his first day back to a library in more than 15 months, Keith Modeste said it was “wonderful.”

"Sitting down and just reading within the library walls -- I just love that and the quietness of the library I really enjoyed that."

While the city’s seven branch libraries are all open, the Central Library building is not expected to reopen until September because it does not have air conditioning.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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