Libraries have been approved to partially reopen by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo under guidelines similar to that of retailers, allowing patrons to get their library materials through curbside pickup.
Massena Public Library Director Elaine Dunn said Tuesday that while the library will be reopening to the public officially Monday, she and her staff had been back, making sure the library was ready.
Under the state guidelines, while curbside service will be provided, the doors will remain closed until reopening reaches Phase IV and staff will have to remain at 50 percent.
Library hours will be 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday.
“It is good news. We’re happy to be serving the public again,” Ms. Dunn said. “So many people have finished the books that they took out and definitely need more. We are encouraging the public to start returning their library materials so we can get caught up on the isolation of materials and returns.”
Patrons can now call or go online from their homes and put a hold on any Massena Library items, and the items will be checked out for them, bagged and once the items are ready to go, patrons will be notified. When they arrive in the parking lot to pick the items up, a staff member will put it outside the door for the patron, so there will be no contact.
Libraries also differ from retail, she said, in that not only are they checking out materials, but materials are also being checked in.
“Everything that comes in has to be isolated for 72 hours, at the minimum, which is following CDC guidelines, then it has to be cleaned, then we can check it into the system,” she said. “We are fortunate here. We have a very big lobby and we have a drop box and we are putting a cardboard box in the drop box and we’ll take a day’s worth, we’ll label the box, we’ll put them on the table in the lobby and isolate them that way, so we know exactly what day the material is from.”
But the opening will not apply to all libraries.
Potsdam Public Library Director Ann T. Chase told the Times earlier in the week that while the sudden change in reopening order for the libraries came as a pleasant surprise, her library would remain closed due to the upcoming renovations expected to last until the autumn.
But she said the move to Phase I allows for library staff to return to the original plan to pack books and get them out of the way for construction.
“And once that project is done we’ll be sending our staff home again and we have them doing independent projects, professional development. Every person is doing different things,” Ms. Chase said. “We’ve asked them to make sure they’re really familiar with our electronic resources, that they know the ins and outs of every product that we use, that they become more expert at using whatever device they have with our library sources. So they are using this time to build their skills.”
Both Potsdam and Massena have free Wi-Fi that reaches outside their doors, but Ms. Chase said she is working with staff to create a way to provide computer access to the public while also following the social distancing guidelines.
But the Canton Free Library doesn’t fall under the categories required to open during Phase I, Director Emily M. Hastings said.
“The rollout from the state has maybe not been handled too perfectly because the guidance that allows Massena and Potsdam to open at this point for curbside service was not extended to apply to libraries like Canton, she said. “There are four different types of libraries in New York state. One of them was excluded from this guidance, and that is the type that Canton is.”
According to the state’s restrictions allowing libraries to reopen, they must be “government facilities only; operations as determined by the local government if such government operates the library, or the library district itself as a political subdivision.”
“Local governments are subject to 50% workforce reductions pursuant to EO 202.4,” the guidelines state. “They are encouraged, but not required, to reference and employ the State’s curb-side and in-store pickup retail guidance to the extent that it applies to their operations.”
That keeps Canton’s doors closed, Ms. Hastings said.
“So the fourth type of library that Canton is, is basically an independent library,” Ms. Hastings said. “We work closely with our local government, but our local government didn’t form us, we were formed by a group of local citizens, something that nobody would ever need to know until something like this comes along and I read down the list and I go, ‘Oh, I’m not there.’ It’s a little bit frustrating.”
She said she and her staff are operating under the assumption that they will have to reopen under Phase IV with education.
“Libraries are formed under the education department, so when it says education, we read it as that’s us,” Ms. Hastings. “So we’re still in a holding pattern. We’re hoping that there will be some guidance that would allow us to do curbside service. We feel we can do it safely.”
While it puts the library in a little bit of an awkward spot, she said it’s not too surprising, calling it “a chaotic time for everybody.”
“My priority has always been keeping the staff and patrons safe,” she said. “We want to serve them, we just want to be safe and I think that is what all the libraries are thinking. It’s a scary time. I couldn’t imagine opening and think my patrons weren’t safe.