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Overdue book? Please don’t bother bringing it back, Spokane Public Library says

"We're going to do a little home schooling," said Brittanee Marsh about her two children as she left the South Hill Library on Saturday, March 14, 2020, shortly after Gov. Jay Inslee announced he would mandate the closure of all Washington Schools from March 17 to April 24. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

There is no need to worry about a late charge on an overdue book from the Spokane Public Library.

In fact, don’t bring it back at all, until the library system reopens.

As the Spokane Public Library attempts to rapidly adapt to a post-coronavirus landscape, it has locked up its return boxes and asked patrons to hang onto those library materials – even if they’re overdue.

“A big challenge that we’re trying to figure out is how we can safely bring back materials that have been out in the community, not knowing precisely how long the virus stays on materials,” said Andrew Chanse, director of the Spokane Public Library.

The Spokane County Library District has also closed all its branches until at least April 24. Materials can still be returned at drop boxes, but the district has extended due dates through the closure and waived all late fees.

“We do have protocols for that,” district spokeswoman Jane Baker said. “Our staff wears gloves when they empty the book drops. They do wipe down each book.”

County library employees are working from home after Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. But prior to the order, a few had remained to organize, clean and prepare for an eventual reopening.

The city library did away with late fees last August and in so doing became part of a growing wave of public libraries around the nation that has decided such a system is counterproductive and disproportionately hurts the poor and disadvantaged who rely on the library the most.

Spokane Public Library is asking patrons to hold onto those materials at least until April 13, when the library is scheduled to reopen.

The primary means by which the novel coronavirus is transmitted is believed to be through droplets expelled into the air when someone carrying it coughs or sneezes. It can also be transmitted when people touch their mouth or nose after touching a surface that contains the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states: “There is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated or frozen temperatures.”

But with every branch of the library closed, there’s no rush to get an overdue book back on the shelf. In the meantime, libraries are keeping tabs on the holds people have placed on books, so they won’t lose their place in line.

Given Inslee’s stay-home order restricting nonessential travel, Chanse said the library sees no reason to have people make a nonessential trip to return a book. The city library’s staff is almost entirely work-from-home now, except a few who come in to pay bills, check mail and help prepare the downtown branch for use as a temporary homeless shelter.

Prior to their closures earlier this month, libraries in the Spokane area were doing brisk business as people prepared for isolation. Even with the doors shut, the library hopes to continue to serve the community.

“Keep (the books at home) – let’s not encourage people to get out into the community,” Chanse said.

Since announcing its temporary systemwide closure, the Spokane Public Library has been working to buttress its digital offerings. A special directory has been set up on its website to help users explore every service available to them from home. The Spokane County Library District also has an online directory of digital resources.