The Cheshire Public Library has served Cheshire for decades as a safe place to foster reading, research, and resources for people of all ages.
But when COVID-19 caused non-essential businesses to close down in March of this year, Library Director Beth Crowley knew it would be an uphill battle to try and reopen to residents.
Having just recently begun in-person services once again, the challenge has morphed from how to reopen to how to stay open and stay safe.
“The biggest challenge is maintaining the 6-foot social distancing throughout the entire library,” Crowley recently told The Herald. “Our librarians are used to being hands-on and helping others with computers or finding books. Now, our staff needs to keep a safe distance from all our patrons.”
The library reopened officially on Sept. 16, after having operated on a strict “grab ’n go” basis since social distancing measures went into effect in the spring. Under Gov. Ned Lamont’s reopening plan, libraries were allowed to open during Phase 2, which began in mid-June, but Crowley and her team wanted to make sure the reopen was successful, so they waited.
“We waited because we wanted to do it right,” Crowley said. “We wanted to make sure we had all the precautions in place before we did anything.”
Keeping a 6-foot social distance isn’t the only new adjustment Crowley and her team have had to make. One of the biggest changes to the physical space of the library is how the stacks are situated throughout the facility. Plexiglass barriers have also been installed at the checkout area.
Those barriers provide safety for both patrons and staff members, while the spacing of the stacks allows for only one person or family group to be in an aisle at a time, which everyone hopes will keep any viral spread down, according to Crowley.
“While we are not open for sitting and lounging, we are open for checking out books, printing, and one-hour computer usage, along with a host of other virtual events we have planned,” Crowley added.
Throughout the pandemic, the Library has offered virtual programming for all Cheshire residents, including cooking classes, virtual book clubs, and meditation.
“All activities, at least for the foreseeable future, will be virtual, especially activities for the kids, like singing,” Crowley said. “We want to remain open and we have to ensure that everyone takes the appropriate precautions.”
The library has also adopted a new program called Matchbook, which has helped them to not only pair readers with new books, but also allow for Librarians to curate a special list of books virtually for readers based on their preferences.
“We are really excited about the Matchbook program and what it has opened up for our patrons,” Crowley explained. “Our Librarians can help you, over the phone or online, develop a list of books you might be interested in based on what you’ve already read. It’s a great program for our young readers who fly through series.”
While the Library may ultimately look different due to specific COVID-19 precautions, Crowley insists that she and the rest of her team are committed to patron safety, as well as valuable community programming.