By DANIEL KITTREDGE As Rhode Island moves toward the next phase of its reopening plan, the Cranston Public Library continues to adapt and prepare for the limited reopening of its various branches to visitors. Nearly all of the library's branches last
As Rhode Island moves toward the next phase of its reopening plan, the Cranston Public Library continues to adapt and prepare for the limited reopening of its various branches to visitors.
Nearly all of the library’s branches last week began offering contact-less pickup of materials reserved in advance, a first since the pandemic forced the closure of library buildings in late March.
Now, with the second phase of Rhode Island’s reopening on track to arrive June 1, Cranston Public Library Director Ed Garcia said additional work is underway to help ensure the safety of employees and patrons once library doors are no longer closed.
“We’ve got a plan, but now we’ve got to kind of sit down and go through the details,” Garcia said during an appearance on Beacon Communications’ “Radio Beacon” podcast last week.
Garcia was among those chosen to serve on a Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Services task force charged with planning for the reopening of libraries, and he said a range of issues require consideration – the extent to which browsing of new materials will be available, for example, and how to provide access to public computers.
For now, in Cranston’s libraries, many of the specifics remain in the planning stage. The contact-less pickup option – which allows patrons to reserve materials in advance by calling, emailing or filling out an online form, and then pick them up outside the library – is currently being offered at all of the library’s branches aside from Arlington, which is located within the still-closed Cranston Senior Enrichment Center.
Garcia said a “soft opening” of the contact-less option took place the week prior to its broad opening, allowing patrons who had reserved materials prior to the library building closures to pick them up. That proved “really popular,” he said, drawing more than 100 people within a roughly two-hour span on one day.
“It allowed us to see how the process would work,” he said.
The response to the full-scale launch of the contact-less pickup option, Garcia said, has been “really great.” He noted that the Central Library on Sockanosset Cross Road has hours Monday to Saturday, while satellite branches have more limited pickup windows.
Garcia also noted that the online reservation system hosted through Ocean State Libraries, which is currently inactive, is scheduled to return June 1.
Library employees worked almost entirely from home during while the state’s stay-at-home order was in effect, Garcia said, but have since started to return on a limited basis. Currently, he said, employees are working at the buildings in four-hour shifts with the same colleagues, with other duties still being performed at home.
“That way we can keep the contact between staff down and follow the safety protocols that the governor has laid out,” he said.
In terms of the further reopening that will be allowed under phase two of the state’s plan, Garcia noted there will be a number of restrictions, including on the number of visitors to libraries at any one time.
Stacks and browsing areas will remain closed, he said, as will seating areas. Advance reservations for materials will remain in place. The libraries are also working to implement various safety measures, including social distancing floor stickers and shielding.
Garcia said some buildings, depending on their layout, might be able to accommodate limited browsing of new materials.
“It’s going to be a building-by-building case for that,” he said.
In terms of computer access, Garcia cited the importance of the library system’s public computers for those without a computer or internet access at home. While specifics have yet to be finalized, he said there will be a number of restrictions once that service reopens, including more limited hours and new social distancing measures.
“We want to make sure that we have some kind of public computer access available,” he said.
During the crisis, the city’s libraries have launched or expanded a host of virtual resources and programming. Garcia praised the system’s staff for their efforts to stay connected with the community and said he expects the virtual approach will remain a staple of the library’s programming going forward, particularly with in-person programming likely not possible until at least the third phase of Rhode Island’s reopening.
“I can’t be prouder of our library staff, because they literally within a week switched from providing in-person services to be able to be content creators and doing content online … They’ve been just amazingly flexible and resilient throughout the whole process,” he said.
To listen to Garcia’s appearance on “Radio Beacon,” visit cranstononline.com or subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other platforms.
For full information on Cranston Public Library’s phase-one and virtual offerings, visit www.cranstonlibrary.org.