September 20, 2020

A Letter to Our Community:

It is heartwarming to know that so many of our community members miss stopping by the library, browsing our collections, attending in person programs, visiting with their friends, using our computers and photocopier, and enjoying all the other services we are dedicated to providing our community with. Our staff members miss having our library users in the building, seeing your smiling faces, and being part of your daily lives, but we also have concerns for the health and safety of our staff and community that are preventing us from reopening the library building at this time and we feel it is important to share some of those reasons with all of you. Please remember that, while libraries are allowed to reopen their buildings as part of Governor Lamont’s Stage II Reopening Plan, every library faces unique challenges and can only reopen their buildings when it is safe to do so. About ¼ of public library buildings in Connecticut remain completely closed to the public and those buildings that are open define being open in varying ways (many have only their lobbies open while others do not allow children inside or are only open by appointment).

The Richmond Memorial Library has struggled with space for years. Designed to hold 26,000 items, the first floor of the library building is now home to over 41,500 items. We outgrew the first floor of the building years ago and are now struggling with the consequences of that. Since June 1, the library has been offering Library2Go Curbside Pickup. Every day since then, staff members have been handling hundreds of items either going out to patrons or being returned in our book drop. Out of an abundance of precaution, all library materials are safely removed from our book drop and then quarantined for at least 3 days before being checked in. Interlibrary loan services resumed in mid-August and have tripled in the number of requests from prior to our March closure, increasing the number of items needing to be quarantined.  Public Works built a temporary (and very small) room for staff to quarantine materials, but at this point so many materials are now being returned or arriving through our interlibrary loan delivery service that we’ve outgrown this room. Library materials are currently being quarantined in open spaces that could not be closed off to the public were they allowed in the building.

Spatial issues impact the library in other ways as well. Our staff work room is so small that, until recently, several staff members have had to share desks. This is no longer advisable with new safety regulations due to Covid-19. Some of our staff members must now spend their shifts primarily in the stacks or working at the circulation desk. This will become a greater challenge when the building reopens because the circulation desk must be kept cleared of staff work/projects when library patrons are in the building. Staff must also be able to put library materials away or pull materials for curbside pickup or interlibrary loan while adhering to social distancing policies, something that becomes difficult with additional people in the building.

Our library relies on one full-time director, two part-time librarians, and five part-time library assistants. We often have only two or three people scheduled to work at any given time. Unlike many other libraries, including our neighboring libraries, we do not have an onsite maintenance crew. In order to reopen the building while still continuing to provide curbside pickup and our active, dynamic virtual programming, we would need to pay for additional staffing to keep up with the new responsibilities. These include increased cleaning requirements set forth by state guidelines and library best practices, as well as having someone monitor the number of people in the building, face mask requirements, and social distancing practices. This is not easily done with our budget or with the availability of our handful of part-time staff members. Further, with a library building our size and such a small team of staff, if one of our staff members becomes ill, our library will have to close completely for two weeks so that staff can quarantine. This would mean that all library programming and circulation would have to stop.

When libraries reopen, they do not look the way they did prior to their closures due to Covid-19. Like other libraries in the state and across the country, we have removed furniture, from comfortable seating to tables and chairs. Programming rooms and meeting spaces have been closed not only because libraries are using these areas for storage but also because building capacity has been reduced to 50%, staff cannot monitor them for social distancing, and staff cannot keep these areas safely cleaned and sanitized with all their other responsibilities. When it comes to browsing, every item that a person touches and puts down poses a safety concern for anyone else touching the item, and will therefore end up in quarantine. This will ultimately mean more items in our quarantine and fewer items available for others to check out. All programming will be virtual for the foreseeable future, not only because of reduced building capacity but also because our programming rooms are no longer available. Access to computers is going to be limited. Due to social distancing, we cannot have people sitting next to one another. While some libraries have been able to move some of their computers, our building does not have the plugs, internet connection, or space to allow us to do this. Our children’s computers have been removed and will no longer be available because space was needed for the small room that was built to help us quarantine items (the room that we’ve outgrown).

We understand how frustrated many of our patrons are, as we feel the same way. We want to reassure our community that while our building may be closed, we are still providing almost all of the same services we were prior to our closure. Library2Go Curbside Pickup allows our patrons to pick up library materials in the safest way possible. While we understand our patrons miss browsing the shelves, our staff is available by phone not only to share their recommendations but to walk over to the shelves and share what is available at that time. We encourage our patrons to take advantage of our Library2Go Book Bundles, which are books specially chosen by one of our staff members based on chosen themes. We are creating a new browsing experience by posting pictures and recommendations on our social media pages. In addition to Library2Go Curbside Pickup, the library is also offering Curbside Printing, Scanning, and Faxing. We have expanded our digital offerings, from adding online databases like CreativeBug and AtoZ Food America, adding digital puzzles to our website, and increasing our virtual programming. We are one of the only libraries in the state to be partnering with various organizations across the country to bring our community new experiences, like virtual walking tours and museum exhibit tours, programs most of our community members would never have had the chance to experience. We ask that our library users continue to be patient while we work towards creating the safest library possible for all of us and invite our patrons to check out all the services and new offerings we are bringing to our library.

The Richmond Memorial Library Board and Staff