By Coner Segren
After a months-long closure due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Flint Public Library reopens its doors to the public at its temporary location in Courtland Center Mall today, July 23.
Conditions for the “phased re-opening” include face masks, social distancing, frequent sanitizing, the use of “quarantine bins” for item returns, a 25-patron occupancy limit, and a one-hour browsing policy.
The library will be open 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5:30p.m. Friday and Saturday, and will be closed Sunday and Monday.
The move, set in motion long before the pandemic, was part of a plan to make way for a massive makeover of the library’s 60-year old building on Kearsley Street — a $27.6 million project to transform the aging facility in the Cultural Center and create 16,000 of additional square feet.
Courtland Center is at 4190 E. Court St., Burton). Library visitors should use the main entrance (Entrance A) and look for library signs east of Sloan Museum @ Courtland. Plenty of free parking is available, and the mall is served by the #10 bus (Richfield Rd.), a press release detailed.
Director Kay Schwartz announced the re-opening plans, along with the slew of safety procedures, in a video press conference Wednesday. The reopening will mark the first time the library will have in-person services since the celebration that marked the closure for renovation of the old FPL building back in February.
“Before Covid, we had planned to be all moved into Courtland Center and be open to the public by the end of May. Here we are opening about eight weeks behind schedule and everyone knows where that eight weeks went,” said Schwartz at the beginning of the conference.
Between then and now the library has continued to offer downloadable content, such as audiobooks, e-books, and magazines, and will continue to expand that catalogue to accommodate patrons who still feel uncomfortable with in-person attendance.
Now the library will be instituting what Schwartz has termed a “phased reopening.” The main library area which houses the main collection of books, CD’s, audiobooks, and children and teen materials will be open to browsing with certain coronavirus restrictions.
Re-opening is “a complex process,” Schwartz said, and safety is considered the top priority.
“We’re asking people to follow the same guideline that they do in other public spaces,” Schwartz said in a press release. “This includes the use of face coverings, hand-sanitizer, and social distancing.” The library will have masks and sanitizer on hand for those who need them.
In addition to the restrictions set forth by the governor’s mandate, the library is adopting a new “browse-and-go” policy. “In that [browse-and-go] phase, we welcome patrons to the library for one-hour time periods to browse, we will have staff available to help them, and then they will go to check-out,” explained Leslie Acevedo, the Director of Library Operations.
The one-hour limit is partially due to the reduced occupancy limit under the governor’s executive order, which limits the main library to 25 percent of the fire marshal’s limit. In this case that will be an occupancy load of 31, including 8 staff members, in the main library.
The library will continue to offer other normal services such as card sign-ups and renewals, and seating will be available although limited.
However, any public gatherings, such as the programming room and a children’s story time room both built before the onset of the pandemic, will be suspended indefinitely.
The annex wing of the library, which houses the computers and genealogy materials, will remain closed to the public for the time being while the staff assesses the reopening procedures in the main library first.
However, Acevedo stressed the importance of getting the computer wing open as soon as safely possible saying, “Last year we provided over 30,000 hours of computer access to people in Flint, and we’re committed to moving forward with that as soon as we possibly can.”
Schwartz also stated that when the annex does eventually open, the computers will also be limited to a one-hour browse-and-go policy, and that the occupancy will be limited to 25. Patrons will also be able to reserve computers over the phone to attempt to cut down on lines.
Among the new safety precautions to help limit the spread of the virus is the use of quarantine bins, where unwanted items can be placed and sanitized. Surfaces will also be cleaned daily. Patrons are also allowed to check out 20 items per library card to help reduce the frequency with which the have to come back to the library.
For people still uncomfortable going to public places for prolonged periods, patrons can browse online and place holds on books, which can be picked up quickly at the mall. Patrons can also sign up for e-cards, which allow them to download material over the internet and which is completely contactless.As
Above all, Schwartz stressed the need for the library staff and patrons to be flexible and patient as they navigate which procedures work best to serve the community.
“Everything is under consideration to be able to meet the needs with the staffing that we can bring to bear on the kinds of services we want to provide,” she said.
Besides outlining the new safety precautions, Schwartz also gave a brief update on the progress of the building renovation. The keys of the Kearsley Street building were turned over to the project manager June 15, and while eight weeks of work were lost during the lockdown order, Schwartz stated their architects “estimate that they could still have us moving into the renovated building in about 13 months from now, in the fall of 2021.”
The library has also raised over half of the $3 million capital campaign to make sure the project is financially secure and to cover extra expenses for the new building installations and the renovations, Schwartz said.
The Library will post updates about the re-opening on its website, fpl.info. This website will be updated regularly as services change. “We know that our patrons are still looking for computer access, genealogy resources and much more,” notes Schwartz. “We will phase in additional services slowly and safely.”
Checked-out library items can be returned to three outdoor drop boxes: the usual drive- up box at Crapo Street, a box near the main Courtland Center mall entrance, and one behind Courtland Center at the movie theater entrance. During business hours, books can also be returned to a drop box inside the library.
The Flint Public Library first opened in 1851. More information about the library is available at www.fpl.info. To follow the progress of the library’s renovation go to YourNewFPL.org.
EVM Staff Writer Coner Segren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.