PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — As indoor spaces open gradually after Washington County was recently placed in the “moderate” category of risk regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries throughout Washington County are discussing plans of expanding services before an eventual full reopening at some point.
While the latter isn’t expected to happen anytime soon, libraries in the Washington County Cooperative Library Services are all allowing curbside pickup of materials with a handful permitting limited indoor browsing.
“I think there’s a lot of hopeful conversations at every library,” said Lisa Tattersall, manager of Washington County Cooperative Library Services, said about offering more and more services without a full reopening. “The way we’re structured, each library or each city decides how and when they want to reopen services and at what extent.”
She said factors on how and when the 16 libraries in the cooperative will reopen are up to the respective cities and nonprofits that run them and are based on such factors as staffing size, building square footage and other factors.
“We’re really here to support them at whatever stage they’re at every stage of reopening, but we don’t dictate what pace they go at,” said Tattersall.
Tattersall said it’s fair to say that all the libraries are talking about what eventual reopening scenarios might look.
Currently, all county libraries are offering curbside pickup where patrons can receive books or other materials they’ve reserved outside, or in some cases, inside the library.
During the pandemic,Tattersall said libraries in general have been steadily expanding their service levels indoors and the library system has been doing its best to keep up with the digital content demand “which is still really intense.”
“The use of our digital content is 40% higher than this time last year,” said Tattersall. “That’s holding steady, that trend.”
Tattersall said she’s not certain about a date for full reopenings, perhaps not even in the fall, but the ultimate goal is to get back to “normal levels of service.”
“I think that is everyone’s highest goal, but we don’t have a target date for that right now,” she said.
Each library is doing things a little differently, including the Tualatin Public Library.
“Tualatin Library is currently undergoing a renovation to build a makerspace, so we can’t open for browsing just yet,” said Jerianne Thompson, director of the Tualatin Public Library. “At this time, we do not have a date for reopening.”
However, Thompson said the library is offering holds for pickup and computer printing is available between 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
“Although we are closed for browsing, our librarians are available by phone or email ([email protected]) to help library users find new books to read or movies to watch,” said Thompson.
Tigard, Tualatin’s neighbor to the south, is also offering curbside services for picking up library materials as well as computer printing, state or federal tax forms pickup and “take and make” craft kits, according to Jeanne Peloquin, communication and outreach coordinator for the Tigard Public Library.
It’s also offering the Book Stacks service where a librarian will selection books, DVDs, CDs and other materials based on a patron’s preferences and have them waiting for pickup. That, along with a “Your Personal Librarian” service (where a librarian suggests the types of books and other materials a person might enjoy, is all part of a virtual browsing service, said Peloquin.
“We’re absolutely planning to open more service soon, including options like limited browsing and computer access,” said Peloquin. “We anticipate having a timeline for our next steps of reopening in the coming weeks.”
She said they are in the process of installing safety equipment that was in short supply during the pandemic to work areas.
“We’re looking forward to progressing with our phased reopening until we reach our full pre-pandemic capacity,” Peloquin said.
The Cornelius Public Library is on the list of those libraries allowing limited services inside the library.
“Cornelius has been letting people in the library for computer use and browsing by appointment so far,” said Karen Hill, Cornelius Public Library director. “In April, we are resuming our normal hours and letting in a limited number of people at a time.”
Residents can register for an appointment online.
The library building is the newest in the WCCLS system, having just opened in 2019.
Universal Coffee, the library’s in-house coffee bar, has been continuing to serve customers through the pandemic.
In Sherwood, the library is making preparations to provide limited browsing as well, according to the city’s website. When that happens, all COVID-19 protocols will still be in effect and browsing will be limited to 30 minutes each day. The library is being redesigned to make visits quicker in order to serve more patrons.
“It’s too early to announce a date for reopening,” said Adrienne Doman Calkins, Sherwood Public Library manager, of the limited browsing proposal. “I will say we are busy preparing the building and staff. We will invite a select number of board members and volunteers to a preview so we can practice with our new procedures and get feedback.”
If all goes well with both the preview and low risk numbers, Doman Calkins said they hope to make an announcement on a reopening in the coming weeks.
A return to in-person services still seems a ways off at the Garden Home Community Library, one of WCCLS’ smallest member libraries.
“We’re planning on sticking with our current service model for a little while,” confirmed Molly Carlisle, Garden Home’s library director.
Carlisle said the Garden Home Library has actually seen its circulation increase over the past year, which she takes as a sign that Garden Home’s distanced service model is working well.
She also noted that the library rents its space from the Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District, which has yet to reopen the Garden Home Recreation Center. That creates additional complications.
“We’re basically like a shop in a mall,” Carlisle said. “If we open to the public, then we have to find a way to not allow people to go wandering through the rest of the recreation center.”
Cedar Mill & Bethany
Cedar Mill and Bethany have a library setup unique within the WCCLS system, as the two libraries are not city libraries, but they do share a single operator, known as the Cedar Mill & Bethany Community Libraries.
“We are looking at ways to accommodate patrons as they will have varying comfort levels entering the buildings,” said Tuesday Scott, library spokesperson. “Accessibility and safety for all patrons is our greatest concern. … We are planning to open more of the library for browsing, as well as limited computer access after we shift collections and furniture and make other interior modifications.”
Scott said the Cedar Mill and Bethany libraries now offer indoor as well as outdoor pickups for library materials. The libraries will continue to offer an outdoor option until restrictions are lifted, Scott added.
The libraries also have added an “express browsing” area inside, in which patrons can browse through a limited selection of library materials. Occupancy is limited.
While continuing to offer curbside services, the Banks Public Library is also allowing patrons to come in to use library computers or browse materials by appointment.
“The number of people allowed in the building is limited and we require all distancing and mask requirements, as well as any additional OHA and Washington County Public Health guidelines, to be met,” added Denise Holmes, Banks’ library director.
In-library pickup and other services are now being offered in Banks as well, in addition to the outdoor options.
As of this week, the Beaverton City Library is letting up to 35 patrons into the main library at a time six days per week, with Thursday the exception.
That number increased from 25 to 35 effective Monday, March 8, according to Glenn Ferdman, Beaverton’s library director.
Patrons who come to to pick up holds or browse the library’s collections are asked to limit their visits to 30 minutes
Beaverton will continue to re-evaluate its on-site capacity levels every two weeks, Ferdman said, while following COVID-19 health and safety guidance from city, county and state public health authorities.
“If the rates continue to go down, and we get the guidance from the authorities … then of course, we can expand our services, have more people in the building and have more on-site service,” Ferdman added.
At the Beaverton Library’s Murray Scholls branch location, only curbside pick-up is available, but Ferdman said the library plans to introduce a grab-and-go service there soon.
Curbside service is still available at both locations.
Additionally, Ferdman noted that the Beaverton Library has been giving out free books at Beaverton School District free lunch sites. He said more than 12,000 books have been given away since last May.
Fines are fine
Meanwhile, the elimination of fines for overdue materials that went into effect in January for libraries in Washington County Cooperative Library Services has proven extremely popular, county library officials say.
“It’s been super-well-received in the community. We’ve had beautiful stories shared,” Tattersall said.
That includes a Hillsboro staff librarian who reported that a single mom recently came into the library with 60 or so overdue books.
“She was worried about the fines and the books just stayed at home, so she was just overjoyed to come back to the library and exchange those books for new ones and know she wouldn’t have that burden anymore,” said Tattersall.
Max Egener, Wade Evanson and Gabby Urenda contributed to this report. This story will be updated with more information on what other Washington County libraries are planning.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated that the Beaverton Library’s Murray Scholls brach location provided limited indoor services. The error has been corrected.