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‘It’s been nonstop:’ Readers raid Spokane library stacks before virus-caused closures

UPDATED: Sat., March 14, 2020

“We’re going to do a little home schooling,”  Brittanee Marsh said about her two children as she left the South Hill Library on Saturday, March 14, 2020. In an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Friday that he would mandate the closure of all Washington schools from March 17 through April 24. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
“We’re going to do a little home schooling,” Brittanee Marsh said about her two children as she left the South Hill Library on Saturday, March 14, 2020. In an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Friday that he would mandate the closure of all Washington schools from March 17 through April 24. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

At the South Hill branch of the Spokane Public Library on Saturday morning, everyone was on the same page.

With all branches scheduled to close that night for six weeks because of the coronavirus, the need to read was on everyone’s mind.

While others hoarded toilet paper and hand sanitizer, thousands of readers citywide were taking advantage of the volume discounts at their local library.

With the parking lot full at the South Hill branch, some patrons parked on the other side of Perry Street and navigated snow drifts to snag a few books.

As Mary Zumwalt walked toward the checkout counter, she held her cane in one arm and all the books she could carry in the other.

There were five.

“Mostly nonfiction,” Zumwalt said as she took one more look around. “I’m a big reader, and this is going to be sorely missed.”

Behind her were dozens of other patrons, some cradling as many as they could carry. Despite near-blizzard conditions outside, many were waiting when the doors opened at 10 a.m.

“It’s been nonstop since yesterday afternoon,” said Gillian Sayer, the customer experience manager at the South Hill branch.

Business soared after school let out Friday afternoon, when the word spread that all schools would be closed through April 24. Libraries will be shut at least through April 13, though some materials may continue to be accessed online.

For some families, however, there’s no substitute for a good book. Or 20.

“We’re avid, avid readers,” said Rachel Dunne, of Spokane, who together with her eighth-grade daughter Samantha checked out about two dozen hardbacks.

Also in line was Sarah Dix. A mother of four, she carried some hefty hardbacks. The subjects: world wars.

With her three school-age children about to sit out for at least six weeks, Dix was eager to fill any idle time.

“We’re just going to keep learning in different ways than they’re used to,” said Dix, who also plans to emphasize board games and gatherings with friends.

It was the same story in the county library system, which is scheduled to close from Tuesday through April 24.

At the Moran Prairie Library on South Regal Street, the parking lot was full, and patrons were gathering armfuls of books, magazines and audio books.

Both library systems are offering a volume discount of sorts. During the closures, the book returns will be padlocked, but no late fines will accrue.

Meanwhile, readers have plenty of online options should they run out of material.

The Spokane Public Library offers digital downloads at spokanelibrary.org/download, while the county system has a wide variety of offerings at scld.org.

Sayer said that even though library buildings will close, staff will be available to answer questions about digital downloads and other issues.

“I urge people to call, and someone on the phone should be able to help,” Sayer said.

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