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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A year into pandemic, Spokane libraries are welcoming patrons back inside

UPDATED: Wed., April 7, 2021

Julianne Turner, a public services specialist at the North Spokane Lib  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
Julianne Turner, a public services specialist at the North Spokane Lib (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane’s public libraries have been lending out books by the thousands throughout the pandemic, but they’re only now beginning to welcome patrons back inside.

Spokane Public Library announced this week that its branches will be open with regular hours for in-person browsing – without a reservation – at all of its locations on Monday.

In doing so, the city’s library joins the Spokane County Library District, which opened the doors to its 11 locations for in-person browsing on March 8.

Both library systems are limiting the capacity of their branches in accordance with state guidelines and have a slate of COVID-19 protocols in place, but the transition to open in-person browsing is a huge step forward for libraries that have operated under numerous constraints since last March.

April 12 will mark the first time people will be able to enter either a county or city library without a reservation in more than a year.

So far, the in-person option has been popular with customers at the county’s libraries. Though curbside pickup remains available, four out of five patrons choose to come inside.

“We have seen an increase in use since reopening, both in terms of the number of people coming in and in the number of items they are borrowing,” said Jane Baker, communication and development director for the Spokane County Library District.

Despite the capacity limits, Baker said there haven’t been any issues, apart from a couple of brief lineups outside a library just after opening.

Occupancy at city library branches will be limited to 50% of normal capacity, while the county library branches are set at 25%. Both library systems are asking visitors – all of whom must be wearing masks – to limit their browsing to 30 minutes.

Patrons can schedule an appointment for computer access at county library branches, while city libraries will allow access without a reservation.

“They will be first-come, first-served and appointments are limited to 30 minutes per person per day,” said Amanda Donovan, director of marketing and communication for Spokane Public Library. “There will be fewer computers available due to social distance between each computer station.”

For those still wary of in-person services, both library systems will continue to offer curbside pickup, which has been enormously popular through the pandemic. To date, Spokane Public Library has circulated 361,296 items via curbside pickup.

“The library will continue to offer curbside pickup by appointment for the foreseeable future and will make adjustments as needed or as we see demand for the service decline,” Donovan said.

Despite the progress in reopening, services at both county and city library branches remain somewhat limited. For example, library users should not expect to be able to book a conference room, and in-person programs remain suspended.

Spokane County Library District branches are open from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on days when the location would typically be open; for a full list of hours, patrons can go to scld.org/library-reopening-march-2021/.

Regular hours at the city library system vary, and the full list can be found at spokanelibrary.org/coronavirus-covid-19/.

Both the city and county are also offering in-person hours specifically for high-risk individuals. For Spokane, that happens during the first hour of each open day, and for the county’s libraries, Tuesdays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to noon are reserved for high-risk patrons.

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