After closing because of the coronavirus crisis in mid-March, the Queens Public Library plans to start reopening physical locations in mid-July, according to QPL President and CEO Dennis Walcott.
The library will reopen its locations for public service in stages, starting with six to eight branches where customers can make returns and pick up requested materials in a designated area of each building.
The move is welcome after many residents have spent the last several months at home in quarantine.
“Public libraries are such a cornerstone of local communities so the slow reopening kind of signals, positively, that things will return to a new normal and we can return in steps to places that we enjoy and places that we meet as a community,” Meghan Cirrito, president of the Friends of the Court Square Library, told the Chronicle last Friday. “Just psychologically it’s a nice signal.”
She continued, “As a parent, just having a chance to go to the library and return library books and get new ones when my kids have been in front of devices doing remote learning for the past several months, that’s going to be a nice change of pace.”
But the former librarian also wants to know that workers and visitors will be safe.
“Patrons return books and DVDs and other materials,” Cirrito said. “How are they going to disinfect that?”
Before reopening, the buildings will undergo extensive cleaning and the spaces will be configured for social distancing.
All returned materials will be set aside, or “quarantined,” for a period of time based on national standards before being put back into circulation, Walcott said in a letter on the Queens Library’s website.
Visitors and staff will be required to wear face masks. Masks will be provided to visitors who do not have them and hand sanitizer will be available.
There will be no public programs, browsing, meeting room availability, chairs or tables for public use, public computers or in-person reference service. Book donations will not be accepted.
The library could not say which branches will reopen first.
Cirrito said she’s glad the reopening will be gradually rolled out and that children can go back to flipping through books and magazines after months online.
“There are other ways to consume content and interact,” she said.
Maria Concolino, president of the Friends of Woodhaven Library, praised the library’s online content, “which is wonderful because at this point parents are probably pulling their hair out, especially if you have a young one.”
She admitted she would have concerns about bringing children to libraries soon.
“I don’t know how quickly I would want to send my child into an area where there’s a lot of children,” Concolino said. “Until we really know that this virus is behind us I don’t think I would personally send my kids to the library when it reopens.”
She also said it depends on what the coronavirus situation is during the next month and concerns about a potential second wave.
“Children, they’re not ones to especially keep their hands clean,” she said laughing.
Walcott said the library will continue to increase its collection of ebooks and other digital resources, and to offer virtual programs, services, activities and events on social media channels and other platforms.
“As we learn from the initial branch reopenings, we will gradually open other locations and expand services,” he wrote. “Again, I want to reinforce that the health and safety of our customers and our staff are our top priorities, and we are undertaking this process slowly and with the utmost caution.”
Friends of Maspeth Library President Crystal Wolfe is happy about the reopening.
“It’s good for people to get out and get back into the community ... It’s also important for mental health to get out and it’s important to feed your mind,” she said.
Wolfe said the libraries are “critical to the community” in terms of education and culture.
She said people concerned about visiting can also wear gloves as a precaution.
Wolfe is happy for the children who can go back. “They didn’t have school and the way they’ve been taught wasn’t ideal so I think it’s good for them to be able to go back to the library and get books,” she said.