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When will libraries reopen in Spokane? Some changes may be coming in March, but it’s still unclear

Spokane Public Library South Hill Branch assistant Michele Cady delivers books to a waiting person during curbside pickup in November.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Spokane Public Library South Hill Branch assistant Michele Cady delivers books to a waiting person during curbside pickup in November. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

It was last March 16 when patrons of the Spokane Public Library emerged from every branch into snowy parking lots, their arms full of books.

Eleven months later, they’ve had almost no chance to return.

Apart from a brief period of grab-and-go in November, patrons have had to settle for curbside service as COVID-19 metrics soared.

That’s frustrating for patrons but even more so for Executive Director Andrew Chanse, who more than anyone appreciates the “serendipity” of strolling through the aisles, finding a special book you didn’t know existed and then sinking into a nearby comfy chair.

“We understand that people want to return, we really do,” Chanse said this week.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear when that will happen. The COVID-19 pandemic is receding, but like other large library systems, Chanse and his staff are going by the book.

The main goal is to protect employees and the public, he said.

“Then it’s all about creating good habits around our staff,” Chanse said. “That’s our approach. We want to make sure the community is in a stable Phase 2 scenario.”

Beginning March 2, the Spokane Public Library will allow limited use of its computers, 30 minutes at a time by appointment only.

Two weeks later, in mid-March, Chanse said he anticipates “some limited grab-and-go.”

“People are very appreciative of the curbside service,” Chanse said.

Meanwhile, the Spokane County Library plans to open its branches on a limited basis beginning March 9, with normal hours (Monday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m.) at all branches.

The setup will be much as it was during that brief reopening last fall, with the same capacity.

“We had only a couple of occasions where people had to wait outside,” said Jane Baker, communications director for the Spokane County Library.

Curbside pickup also is available, and quite popular, in the county system.

“Most of our meeting rooms have become holding areas for books,” Baker said.

The Coeur d’Alene Library also remains closed, offering only curbside pickup; it’s not clear when it will open doors to patrons. Richland, Wenatchee and Yakima libraries have been open since those areas moved to Phase 2, though with limited hours and masks required.

However, most systems remain closed, especially in the Puget Sound.

In the county system, Baker explained, many employees float between branches. That poses a greater risk of COVID-19 transmission, so work schedules are being altered before March 9.

The city system doesn’t have that problem, Chanse said.

However, he added, “we also need to protect our employees” from possible infection from the public.

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