The Harvard Public Library announced last week it would begin in-person, by-appointment sessions for patrons interested in using the computers and browsing collections in both the children’s room and adult and teen collections.
These appointments will consist of 30-minute sessions in which one household is allowed entry into a specific area they choose. The library’s website says a household can consist of no more than four people. Only one patron is allowed at a computer; however, if assistance is needed, the patron may have an additional person present. A mask is required on entry and must stay on for the duration of the appointment.
Mary Wilson, library director, spoke with the Press about the decision to open the library to a small number of patrons. “The one thing that was very reassuring to us is the COVID numbers,” Wilson said. Vaccine rollout has also increased, and Wilson told the Press that, “by the next two weeks, I think the majority of the staff will have at least received one shot.”
With Harvard’s Town Hall reopening April 5, Wilson said, “We figured it was time for us to put our big toe in the water and see how it goes.’’ The library currently has a robust system of rules in place on its website, including staying 6 feet apart from others in the building, and required hand sanitization; many activities, such as teleworking and lounging, are not permitted. Wilson detailed the steps the library has taken for both staff and patron safety: “We have Plexiglas everywhere, we have social distancing signs everywhere, we have arrows on the floor everywhere.” With these measures in place, the library staff is confident that patrons can safely come into the building by appointment.
At this point, the library’s appointment system is relatively new, and with the uncertainty of the pandemic, Wilson said she has “assured and reassured every staff member that if this doesn’t go well, we’ll reverse it and go back to curbside only. But we want to make some forward progress.” By Wilson’s account, patrons have not objected to the rules in place, and many have shared their excitement about the library’s reopening.
As for Harvard’s neighboring towns, some have been hesitant to begin the “by-appointment” process, while others have started. Ayer, Stow, and Bolton are not yet ready to commit to the program, while Boxborough and Littleton have joined alongside Harvard. For many who are still wary about going into the library during the pandemic, curbside is still running as usual. Wilson reiterated that “the bottom line is we want the patrons and the staff to be safe.”
Librarian Catherine Chaisson checks out books behind plexiglass for patron Susan Morris, one of the first visitors back in the library as in-person visits began this week. Appointments can be booked in advance on the library’s website. (Photo by Lisa Aciuekwicz)