As businesses begin to reopen after being closed for several weeks because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, public libraries in central Ohio have planned a limited opening of their own.

Columbus Metropolitan Library branches have been closed since March 14, but beginning Monday, May 18, three branches will offer curbside pickup as part of the system’s phased reopening, according to a news release from the library system.

The Gahanna branch at 310 Granville St., the Hilliard branch at 4500 Hickory Chase Way and the Parsons branch at 1113 Parsons Ave. in Columbus will allow cardholders to pick up reserved materials or drop off returns. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Book-return slots will be available at the three branches during the hours listed, but no access to the buildings will be permitted.

Customers will be notified when they have items located at those branches ready to be picked up. Those who have items ready to pick up at any other locations are advised to watch for updates for when additional locations will offer curbside pickup.

“We don’t anticipate Black Friday-level demand,” library spokesman Ben Zenitsky said. “These will be the three guinea pigs. We’ll see what works and what doesn’t.”

Library officials said they would monitor the initial openings to determine when other locations will participate, possibly as early as June.

Other library systems have announced plans to do the same, including Bexley, Grandview Heights, Westerville and Upper Arlington.

Area library officials have been meeting monthly to coordinate their plans.

Most have decided that there will be curbside pickup in some form by the last two weeks of May, said Ben Heckman, director of the Bexley Public Library.

“I think that we’re missing being able to serve people,” Heckman said. “We’re about taking care of the public.”

Bexley and other library systems saw a dramatic increase of materials checked out in March, compared with previous months, as news of the virus and possible closings spread.

The Bexley library recently held “The Big Return,” in which people could fill large bins with return items. The items were not touched for several days, per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Heckman said.

Many people drove by and asked staff members, “Why can’t you open back up like at Kroger or other stores?” Heckman said.

His reply: “Because you don’t return your groceries to Kroger. When you return your items (here), how do you make it safe?”

Battelle continues work to determine how long the coronavirus survives on surfaces of library materials, including newsprint, CD cases and glossy book covers.

As of May 13, researchers have yet to begin testing about 25 items donated from Columbus, said Battelle spokesman T.R. Massey. The process could take several weeks.

Heckman said the results will help assure library users about safety.

“We’re going to change whatever our processes need to be when we hear back from Battelle,” said Heckman. “I feel confident that every measure is being taken at our library and will continue with our patrons.”

dnarciso@dispatch.com

@DeanNarciso