Melissa Parish, the Flagler Beach librarian, is clearly exasperated by the perception that her library has been closed for a year. The library’s doors have. The library’s services have not: except for a 51-day stretch between last March 23 and May 12, when much of the nation was on lockdown, the library has been operating five days a week with pick-up service.
Starting Tuesday, however, the library at 312 South 7th Street will reopen again to in-person browsing and computer use, at least for four hours a day, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Parish presented her partial reopening plan to the Flagler Beach City Commission Thursday evening. The plan applies a series of safety measures that recognize the enduring risks of the coronavirus pandemic while also acknowledging the receding crisis and browsers’ need to return to their stacks.
Commissioners were impressed and gave their go-ahead, with the understanding that Parish will return to the commission in 30 days to re-evaluate the opening–and possibly expand the hours. The resumption of in-person browsing doesn’t change the library’s otherwise regular schedule for curbside pic-up, which will remain in effect even for those who prefer not to come in, Tuesday through Friday from 10 to 5, and Saturdays from 10 to 2.
“It doesn’t seem like we’re out of the woods yet, so our approach is a cautiously optimistic one,” Parish told the commission. “Limiting hours would allow us to keep up with the increased demand for quarantine and sanitization with more books being checked out and returned. We would continue to be at the library during business hours to answer phones, distribute pick-up orders and make copies for our customers. We’ve done our best in strange times to give our neighbors some sense of normalcy.”
No more than 10 patrons will be allowed inside the library at any one time. Masks will be required of all library patrons at all times. Social distancing within the library will be enforced. Hand sanitizers will be available. Computer keyboards will be covered with plastic screens, recyclable after every use. Books that circulate will be quarantined for 72 hours and disinfected.
“This plan is spot-on,” Bob Snyder, who heads the Flagler County Health Department and attended Thursday’s commission meeting, said. “It takes into account indoor activity, the right public health measures, mask wearing, the social distancing, the limiting of people. I applaud you for doing the right thing.”
Parish’s report was a welcome counterpoint, for commissioners, who later agreed to cancel this year’s July 4 parade and fireworks and delay to August any further discussion of resuming large events in the city.
Before covid, the library was checking out some 1,400 volumes a month (it has 20,000 volumes in all). After reopening for curbside service last May, it has still been circulating between 490 and 515 volumes a month, though the perception that the library was closed cut into its broader services. The library also issued 286 new cards since last May. Fines for late returns have been reduced and allowances continue to be made for extenuating circumstances, Parish said.
The Flagler County Public Library in Palm Coast and its branch in Bunnell had closed their doors in mid-March last year in response to the pandemic but continued brisk curbside service until several staffers at the Palm Coast library developed covid-like symptoms at the end of March, suspending operations for a while. But the library reopened its doors to in-person browsing in early May, with safety measures.