The Pickerington Public Library system reopened doors to its two branches July 6 after implementing steps to help combat the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The library has opened its Sycamore Plaza and Main branches, marking the first time patrons could enter the buildings since they were closed March 15.

In reopening, library hours have been reduced at the Main Branch, 201 Opportunity Way. They are from 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Hours at the Sycamore Plaza Branch, 7861 Refugee Road, are 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

"We are reopening because there is a need and desire for library services in our community," said Colleen Bauman, the library system's community engagement manager. "July 6 was selected as a reopening date because we needed time to ensure our processes and facilities have the appropriate safety measures in place to reduce the chance of community spread of COVID-19."

Safety measures

In setting up desks and computer work stations, Bauman said the library is following social-distancing guidelines set by the Ohio Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Plexiglass window shields have been installed at customer service desks, hand-sanitizer dispensers are available throughout the buildings and new signs encourage patrons to wear facial coverings and maintain at least six feet between themselves, other guests and library staff.

"We are continuing curbside pickup to offer access to customers who may be uncomfortable coming into the building," Bauman said.

A maximum of two people are permitted per table, there are limited computer work stations and they are set up with social distancing in mind.

Notary and proctor services are available via appointment and all toys and computers have been removed from the Youth Services Department.

Meeting spaces remain closed because they are used as quarantine areas for materials or storage for unused furniture.

Smaller conference rooms also are closed because they don't allow for proper social distancing, Bauman said.

"We do a thorough cleaning of the facilities each day," she said. "Throughout the day, staff clean areas as necessary.

"The restroom that is available to the public is cleaned on an hourly basis."

Patrons return

Within the first hour of the Main Branch opening July 9, only three customers were inside, but they were pleased to again have the option of using the facility.

Melody Johnson, who was working alone at a desk on her personal tablet computer, said she had visited the Main Branch each day last week because her WiFi connectivity was not working at her house.

"I need to come some place to do things that I want to do on my iPad," Johnson said. "I also really like being at the library and using the facilities with my grandchildren and looking for myself."

Bauman said library patrons have been positive about the reopening, adding "most customers are wearing masks into the library and everyone seems to be practicing good social distancing while in our facilities."

Johnson said she was satisfied with measures the library was taking to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

"I feel they're trying to keep us safe and healthy," she said. "I'm happy with what they're doing."

Another patron, Jennifer Michelea, stopped to pick up a book she had reserved.

"I'm not a big digital person," Michelea said. "I like the presence of a book in my hand.

"It's just easier, and in this economy I don't want to go to a book store or (shop) online.

"I think it is important that we still participate with our library. It's a resource."

Economic issues

Since the pandemic began, hours for all of the library's non-exempt staff members have been reduced by 10% and all exempt staff 3% "with the expectation that they continue to work their full 40 hours and support vacancies where needed," Bauman said.

The staffing reductions forced reduced hours of operation, she said.

Library director Tony Howard said as a result of the shutdown between mid-March and businesses reopening in June, the library saw a loss of state revenue of $88,675.

"This is in addition to the loss of general revenue from daily operations -- proctoring, copies, replacement costs, etc.," Howard said.

"At the peak of the shutdown (in April), we saw a decrease of 35.13% in state revenues.

"In order to be fiscally responsible with taxpayer funds, we are planning for the possibility of another shutdown," he said.

"In addition, we are also planning for a reduction in local levy revenues."

Howard said information provided by the state treasurer's office projects a "minor" reduction in revenue from the library system's local tax levy as early as January 2021.

"Proper financial planning will ensure a strong library for the future," he said. "While our current budget cuts and changes to our operations are painful now, we are confident they will enable the library to be a stronger organization supporting the community in the future."

Library system fiscal officer Brenda Oliver said employees have made sacrifices but worked hard to continue serving the community without further burdening the unemployment system.

"In order to do this and match revenue reductions, all staff received a reduction in hours or pay," she said.

"Through wise financial planning and strategically adjusting services, we did not have to furlough or layoff any staff."

In addition to keeping them off unemployment, Howard said keeping staff working allowed the library to enhance virtual services and offer curbside pickup and drop-off services.

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