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Public Libraries In Step With Reopen New York

The currently shuttered Bach Branch of the Albany Public Library on New Scotland Avenue.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
The currently shuttered Bach Branch of the Albany Public Library on New Scotland Avenue.

With some new precautions, public libraries in New York are preparing to reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic forced their shutdown in March.
Patrons of local libraries haven't been able to borrow physical materials, secure a quiet place to study or reserve a community room for a meeting. But with New York slowly reopening, libraries are getting ready to welcome the community back.

Tom Lawrence is the director at the Poughkeepsie Public Library district.

"The library district closed down Monday evening, March 16th, and we were offering up until today, only digital services, which were heavily used. We did a lot of Facebook and Facebook live and YouTube videos for children’s services, which were very well received and highly viewed. All of our digital and streaming services were overwhelmed by these kids. So the demand was there. Today we launched curbside service where patrons can call in identify the materials they want that are available in our library and we bag them and run them out to their car."

Lawrence says Poughkeepsie is considered a "government library" and isn’t as restricted as other public libraries around the state.

"We think that in about two weeks or so, we can move into our phase two, which will probably mean that we can bring people back into the library for very quick in and out things, not a lot of lingering, not a lot of studying at the table. And then two weeks after that we'll go into Phase 3 which gradually brings more people in the building. So we think that we're going to be fairly close to normal hopefully by the early to mid July."

Executive Director Scott Jarzombek says the Albany Public Library has created a plan that gradually reintroduces in-person services and slowly reopens buildings as soon as the Capital Region enters Phase Two. It begins with staffing certain branches.

"We want to get people used to being at work and way we're staffing the building, staff will be on one week and then off the other week, that's to build a little bit of redundancy. So if we were to have a staff member get sick or we were to have a staff member say, you know, I was exposed, then we could say you can take a couple weeks to quarantine and just you know, get tested and things like that."

Operations will ramp up as the region reaches Phase Three.

"That's when we'll start doing things like curbside delivery. You'll be able to call our staff and say hey, can you pick out a murder mystery for me or you know, we need books on you know, on tectonic plates, you know, can you create a little, you know, collection for us to come pick up, and that's when we'll start doing curbside pickup. Then as we go on, as the state goes on and its phases, we will be opening up select locations for patrons to do by appointment computer use and by appointment reference questions and research.

Jarzombek says it will likely be January or February before the library returns to regular hours. In the meantime…. "We'll be opening select locations to a head count. So in other words, you come to the library, you might be told to me to wait outside for a little bit because there's already too many people in the building. It'll be transactional. So it'll be, you know, the the way the library was where you could just kind of come in and hang out for a few hours now will be a little bit limited."

Library director Karen Bradley tells WAMC the Schenectady Public Library board of trustees is meeting Thursday night to receive an update to both the Mohawk Valley and Southern Adirondack regional library system's recommendations to consider a reopening plan. For now they're still gathering information, figuring out the logistics regarding distribution and quarantining of materials as they figure out next steps.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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