From the safety of their own homes, Spokane residents can remotely access thousands of audio and e-books through their public library.
But for some, nothing beats the feeling of a physical book. And for others, internet service is unreliable or unattainable, making digital access a struggle.
Eager to emerge from their quarantine closures, public libraries in Spokane County want to offer patrons the option of curbside pickup but are waiting for Gov. Jay Inslee to approve their plans.
Although both have buttressed their digital offerings during the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, the Spokane Public Library and Spokane County Library District are eager to get books back in the hands of local readers – as safely as possible.
Officials say they are waiting for library-specific guidelines from the state before moving ahead with curbside pickup in Phase 2 of Inslee’s Safe Start Washington reopening plan, which Spokane County entered late last month.
“We’re champing at the bit to get back and start sharing some of our resources with the community,” said Jane Baker, communications director for the Spokane County Library District.
A spokesperson for Inslee’s office told The Spokesman-Review on Tuesday that the governor is “exploring” curbside pickup guidelines for libraries in Phase 2, but that nothing has been finalized.
Retail bookstores, by comparison, already are offering curbside pickup.
With more than a dozen branches between them, the county and city library systems have been closed since March. In the meantime, they’ve gotten creative, offering new ways to connect with literature and offer services. The Spokane Public Library, for example, has regularly hosted a “virtual storytime” on Facebook Live.
But both systems believe they’re ready to offer more.
In its tentative plans for curbside pickup, the Spokane Public Library would allow patrons to place a hold on an item online, as usual. The person would be notified by phone or email when it’s ready and asked to schedule a time to pick it up.
“We already have the staff and infrastructure lined up to facilitate this and are excited to get materials back in the hands of our customers,” said Amanda Donovan, a library spokeswoman.
The Spokane County Library District hopes to offer curbside pickup at 10 of its 11 locations, with its branch in the Spokane Valley Mall being the lone exception, as early as next week. Similar to the city’s library system, customers would place an item on hold and be notified when it’s available for pickup, which could be done anytime between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Baker said the county library’s service would be similar to retail curbside pickup operations that have become increasingly familiar during the pandemic.
“The materials would be bagged, checked out, with the checkout slip stapled to top, and brought out on a cart,” Baker said, adding that the procedures would minimize one-on-one contact.
The Spokane Public Library’s curbside pickup option would be available at the South Hill, East Side, Hillyard and Indian Trail branches, with the service possibly coming later to the temporary branches at NorthTown Mall and Spokane Transit Authority plaza.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its guidelines to clarify that the coronavirus does not easily spread from surfaces, items returned to the Spokane Public Library and Spokane County Library District will not be touched by staff members for at least 72 hours.
Library branches will be able to allow patrons inside in Phase 3, but specifics have yet to be outlined. It’s unclear if libraries will face limitations similar to those imposed on public-facing businesses like restaurants, which will be limited to 75% capacity in Phase 3, or movie theaters, which will open at 50% capacity.
In lieu of that guidance, the Spokane Public Library is already planning additional safety measures. Its employees will be required to wear masks, plexiglass will be installed where employees interact with the public, keyboards will be wrapped in disposable sleeves and markings will be placed throughout branches to indicate proper social distance.
Phase 3 likely will not begin for at least three weeks after the start of Phase 2, but officials have not yet outlined specific criteria for counties – or the entire state – to move forward.
In-person programming has been canceled through Aug. 31 at the Spokane Public Library, with its summer reading programs moving online. In-person events at the Spokane County Library District have been canceled until further notice.
Neither library system is accepting returned books. The city’s library system never charges late fees, while the county system is waiving late fees accrued during the closure and extended due dates to Aug. 1.
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