Books inside a classroom
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Parking Lot Wi-Fi, Quarantined Books: How Libraries Are Operating in the Pandemic

(INDIANAPOLIS) — Indiana libraries have had to make changes to stay open in the pandemic.

Libraries were in the first wave of establishments allowed to reopen in May after a six-week lockdown. Indiana Library Federation executive director Lucinda Nord says libraries were requiring masks even before a statewide order. They’ve taken other actions like removing most of the comfy couches and armchairs, and disinfecting computers after each use.

But disinfecting library items is trickier. Most libraries are quarantining returned items in a separate room for three days. Nord says some libraries are asking patrons who take a book off the shelf but decide against checking it out to put it on a special cart instead of the shelf. Others have adopted a “clean in, clean out” policy, having patrons sanitize or wash their hands at the entrance so they can browse freely, then having them sanitize again on the way out.

The Indianapolis Public Library has reported its first staffer with coronavirus. The library says the staffer had been self-quarantining for five days before getting the positive test result, after coming in contact with someone with the virus. A second staff member who may have been in contact with the first is self-quarantining. The library says they’re not aware of any contacts with patrons.

The library remains open, but Nord says such situations are a more significant problem at smaller
libraries, where that might be a quarter of the staff.

About 30 Indiana libraries are still closed or offering curbside checkout only, though which ones and where can vary from week to week. Nord says some libraries have closed because of a spike in cases in the community. But a more common problem is staffing. In addition to quarantines, Nord says nearly one in five library staffers is retirement age, and a lot of them decided when the pandemic hit that it was time to retire. Other workers may have child-care issues interfering with their ability to come to work.

Nord says the number of patrons visiting libraries is way down, though there won’t be official numbers till the end of the year. But at the same time, there’s been a jump in patrons making use of online services like e-books, music and audiobooks. And Nord says library programs like storytime or cooking classes are drawing bigger audiences online than they did in person.

There have also been more people using what previously wasn’t a key part of library services: the parking lot. Nord says many libraries turned up the power on their wi-fi so people who needed Internet access could log on from their cars even while the building itself was locked down.

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