When the COVID-19 crisis reached the United States, no one had any idea that life would grind to a standstill, especially staff at the Mercer County Public Library. “When the Board of Trustees ordered our closure on March 19 and staff to go home, I thought we would only be closed for a few weeks,” stated Robin Ison, library director.
As the library was not deemed an essential service, the doors have remained shut and the stacks unavailable for browsing by the public. Staff members knew that many of their patrons would want to continue to read, especially those who were now sheltered in place with extra time on their hands. Soon after the closure, limited curb side service was offered. Patrons were allowed to call in requests for no more than five items (books, audiobooks, or DVDs) and then drive up to receive their items. Four laptops were set up in the library’s gallery so that patrons who needed to use a computer would still have that opportunity.
Additionally, hours for Wi-Fi access outside the building were extended. Copying, faxing, and laminating services remained available. “We wanted to assist our patrons in having as normal of a life as possible during a time that was anything but normal,” said Ison.
The library is now entering its third phase of re-opening, which is called Browse and Go. Soon, the library will be open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Upon entering the library via the sliding doors, patrons will be greeted with the new Wall of Achievement display. Photographs of 2020 graduates of Burgin, Mercer Senior, and Mercer Central schools now adorn the walls of the gallery. “We wanted to celebrate all local graduates, especially considering the impact that the coronavirus had on graduation ceremonies.
The display acknowledges this significant milestone in their lives,” said Ison. From the gallery, there is an established traffic flow that is designated by directional arrows on the floor and signs at the ends of every aisle. Ison continued, “We want those patrons who wish to select their own materials to have that chance. The stacks will be open to browse, but there will be no seating available, except at our adult computer bank.”
Due to required social distancing, only 12 computer stations will be open for use. Preference will be given to patrons who are completing job applications or online testing. “We have made many changes to meet safety guidelines as established by the CDC,” Ison said.
Patrons will also check out their materials at the circulation desk with a modified self-check system. Instructions for use will be posted for those who have not used the standard self-check system before. “We are happy to see our patrons and wish to maintain a safe environment for them as well as for staff. We are confident that limited physical interaction is key in preventing the spread of the coronavirus,” said Ison.
Curb side service will continue to be available for those who cannot come in and browse. Patrons may call in their requests between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with pick-up times set between 2-5 p.m.
Significant changes are being made in the Children’s Section. Said Children’s Librarian Lolita Short, “Because we are in an ‘Under Construction Phase,’ our young patrons will have limited access to our side of the library.”
Don’t worry, the Osage Orange tree is still there, but other changes have been made. “While we were closed, we shifted, re-organized, and made additions. When finished, we think that our young patrons will be pleasantly surprised,” said Short.
In the middle of the pandemic, the library applied for and was named the recipient of a $10,000 CARES grant. “This grant will enable the library to make a significant impact on the lives of our patrons,” said David Kirkpatrick, Reference and Genealogy Librarian. The grant is co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and was developed to aide libraries in their response to the COVID-19 crisis. According to Kirkpatrick, “The virus severely impacted programming at the library. We had to cancel in-house as well as out-reach programming, including our traditional Summer Reading activities.
Most libraries were forced to implement virtual programs, from Zoom meetings to Story Time. This grant will enable MCPL to do similar digital events.”
The library has a new website, designed by Adult Programmer Tracy Mundy and Sam Tolliver. “I encourage our patrons to check the website as well as our social media platforms for information,” said Mundy. “We update often, as well as share information about resources and community events that benefit and enrich the lives of our patrons.” Mundy continued Mundy, “We greatly value patron input through comments and inquires. We hope that all of our changes over the past four months will support our community in general and our patrons in particular as we all develop a new sense of normal.”
Patrons are advised to check the website, social media platforms, or call (859-734-3680) for announcement of the official re-opening date.