As longtime branch manager of the Three Creeks Community Library, Barbara Jorgenson’s excitement of welcoming guests inside the Salmon Creek branch went a step further than what she anticipated.
“It was more emotional than we thought it’d be,” Jorgenson said. “The first time I heard a child cry, I almost teared up.”
Call it an overdue return for Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries.
The regional library district is in its third week opening its doors at all branch locations scattered across Clark, Cowlitz, Klickitat and Skamania counties since COVID-19 shut libraries down in March 2020. And the emotions of seeing guests milling around have led to joyous responses at Jorgensen’s branch.
“To see patrons come in and just stand there for a moment and just look around and say, ‘I’m in the library,’” Jorgenson said, “it makes you realize how important we are in the community and to people, that this is a step to normalcy now. It’s a wonderful thing.”
A wonderful thing because it’s been a long time coming. Public libraries in Washington first closed for two weeks in March 2020, then extended in-person closure for a year. In June, FVRL launched a curbside pickup service, a contactless delivery option in which patrons can retrieve books and other materials by pulling into a library’s parking lot.
That proved to be a popular option. Staff kept busy distributing 115,000 materials via curbside pickup the past 11 months.
“It is an enormous amount when you think about how much work is behind it,” Jorgenson said. “We were busy; there was no sitting there twiddling our thumbs.”
It’s been almost a month since FVRL first held soft openings in preparation of practicing new safety guidance. Now, all branches are open with limited services. Visitors may browse the library’s collection, use computers and printers/scanners, pick up holds and get staff assistance. Curbside pickup for library materials and online services — including virtual programs — will continue. All patrons are required to wear face coverings and observe social distancing.
Branches also are limiting visits by patrons to 30 minutes. The library district encourages guests to schedule their visits online, but walk-in visitors are welcome on a first-come, first-serve basis as allowed by building capacity. In March, the state’s reopening plan included new rules for public libraries once a county reaches Phase 3, which includes Clark County. Libraries smaller than 100,000 square feet may allow up to 50 percent of the building’s occupancy. At Three Creeks, that limit is 45, Jorgensen said.
Other safety guidelines changes inside branches include plexiglass barriers on counters. Some services such as in-person programs, meeting rooms, and children’s play areas remain off limits.
Nonetheless, it’s an exciting time to welcome visitors back inside the library, said FVRL Executive Director Amelia Shelley.
“After a year of serving our communities through curbside pickup, books by mail, and virtually, it’s great to open our doors and see patrons in-person,” Shelley said in a statement.