Public libraries on the North Olympic Peninsula are preparing to open limited in-person services.
Directors and staff of the North Olympic Library System (NOLS) — which oversees public libraries in Clallam County — the Jefferson County Library in Port Hadlock and the Port Townsend Public Library are hoping to have everything in place to start slowly phasing in-person browsing, check-out and public computer use beginning in mid-November at the earliest.
All library buildings in counties that are in Phase 2 of the state’s Safe Start plan are allowed to open to the public at 25 percent capacity, so each individual library’s capacity and hours will vary, local library directors said after receiving updated guidance from Gov. Jay Inslee on Oct. 6.
“We’ve never really closed, said Port Townsend Public Library Director Melody Eisler. “We’ve always been open in a way. But now we get to look forward to reopening our doors for the public.”
Services will remain primarily curbside for the foreseeable future.
“We don’t want people’s expectations to be we’re just going to open back up like normal,” said Noah Glaude, NOLS director. “Curbside is going to be the primary service we’re going to continue to provide.
“We’re going to be limiting the number of people we allow in and the amount of time they spend in the building at a time.”
Glaude, Eisler and Jefferson County Library Director Tamara Meredith said they are glad to start to be able to begin to return to in-person interactions.
Specific plans for the each of the individual NOLS libraries — those in Port Angeles, Sequim, Forks and Clallam Bay — are still being worked out, while Port Townsend and Jefferson County libraries have preliminary plans in place.
Eisler and Meredith initially are planning in-person activities to be transactional, with people allowed a small amount of time to browse the shelves and check out promptly. Sitting and enjoying a book or newspaper within the library will not immediately be permitted.
“Our motto has been slow is smooth and smooth is fast,” Eisler said. “We’re going to incrementally start to reopen and be able to add more as we can.”
Jefferson County Library will use its self-checkout stations so staff members will not touch materials that the public will check out, Meredith said.
“We’re very much at this point going to be kind of the grocery store for books, audiobooks and DVDs,” Meredith said.
“So just like when you go to a grocery store. You’re selecting your own items and very often just purchasing your own items at the grocery store through self-check machines,” she said. “That’s what the library is going to look like.
“Unfortunately, it’s not a place where you’re going to be able to sit and read the newspaper or sit and study.”
The three directors are working out how to offer public computers for use again, with ideas such as limited hours, reservations and spacing to be implemented, but those most likely will not be available when the libraries first open.
The openings are contingent on the libraries being able to get staff and the buildings up to the necessary guidelines.
Inslee’s announcement was unexpected at the time, even though libraries were working on contingencies for when they could reopen as part of Phase 3.
It’s been a bit of a scramble to get things in order, Eisler said.
“It’s like being in a sci-fi novel,” she said. “I feel like time speeds up and slows down all in the same day.”
Each of the libraries are continuing to offer a variety of online virtual programs, as well as curbside pickup.
More information on curbside pickup, online programs and the eventual reopenings can be found on their websites: nols.org for all North Olympic Library System libraries, ptpubliclibrary.org/library for the Port Townsend Library and jclibrary.info for the Jefferson County Library.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5 or at [email protected].