MONROE, CT — Nina Bartlomiejczyk walked into the breezeway inside Edith Wheeler Memorial Library’s main entrance Tuesday afternoon, and rang a doorbell to gain entry into the building.
Director Lorna Rhyins made sure Bartlomiejczyk was wearing a mask. Then Bartlomiejczyk rubbed her hands together with hand sanitizer, as Rhyins turned on the automatic glass double-doors.
After months of being limited to curbside service and remote programming amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the library opened its doors to the public for walk-in browsing on Oct. 13.
“The library has been adding hours and services incrementally since it first closed its doors in March,” Rhyins said. “Instead of moving ahead with a splash, we are continually finding new ways to make services available safely to our patrons.”
While making these decisions, Rhyins has been working closely with First Selectman Ken Kellogg’s office and Health Director Nancy Brault.
Rhyins said the computer station is open by appointment with 45 minute time slots and library staff cleans the workspaces whenever a computer has been used. Patrons can use the nearby copier machine too, though they must bring their own change or dollars. Copies can also be made remotely for people to pick up.
Library computers can be accessed by making an appointment on the town’s online calendar.
Rhyins said a scanner will soon be setup by the computers for visitors to use.
Hours are still limited, but have recently been expanded to include Saturday mornings, according to Rhyins.
The library is open for walk-in browsing from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday and from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
Curbside Service, Best Sellers
In addition to opening the building, Edith Wheeler Memorial Library is continuing both its Library-to-Go curbside service and bestseller patio browsing for those who prefer to access their library materials remotely.
Shelves of best selling books outside the library entrance may be checked out by patrons using their library cards. Cards inside each book are filled out, then dropped into a box.
“We’ll check them out later,” Rhyins said of adding the transactions into the library’s computer system. While scanning the shelves, she added, “this is a good selection and we have puzzles.”
Puzzles can be borrowed on an honors system and one shelf has materials for crafts-to-go. The library also offers wifi outside with 24/7 access, so people can use their electronics in their cars in the parking lot.
EWML’s online services have been active since the pandemic began.
“We invested in extra downloadable books this year, so that collection is larger and more accessible than in the past,” Rhyins said.
EWML programs, which have operated successfully via Zoom since March will stay in an online format for the time being. Rhyins said a Connecticut Humanities grant has allowed the library to continue its robust programming.
One program, “United States in WWII: Perspectives on History with a Modern-Day Context,” is an eight-session series presented by Arthur Gottlieb on Zoom. Rhyins said the series, which is co-sponsored by the Monroe Historical Society, is meant to appeal to older men.
New rules are in place to ensure the safety of patrons and staff. Masks are required, the building has undergone a thorough cleaning, and high-touch surfaces are being wiped down on a regular basis.
The entrance to the children’s library at the building’s lower level has the same setup as the main entrance does, with a doorbell and hand sanitizer dispensers.
Inside, the children’s library may not be accessed from the stairs on the upper level to avoid people walking by each other. And Rhyins said use of the elevator is limited to those with disabilities, because it is an enclosed space.
Social distance markers are on the library carpet, along with directional arrows, and acrylic dividers were installed on desks and countertops, in accordance with the governor’s guidelines.
Chairs have been removed and common spaces have been shutdown because extended visits to meet, work or study are not yet allowed. This means the library’s meeting rooms, makerspace, and café remain closed. On the children’s level, toys have been stored away to prevent the spread of germs.
Rhyins said returns are quarantined for a few days, before going back into circulation.
Reuniting with patrons
Rhyins said she and her staff members are happy to have patrons walking through their doors again after having been remote since March.
“It’s been really sad not seeing all of our patrons, so it’s gratifying to be able to see people’s faces again, say hello and see how they’re doing,” she said.
Bartlomiejczyk, of Monroe, a Southern Connecticut State University student pursuing a Master’s of Science degree in library and information science, was doing research for a paper online when she stumbled upon the news of Edith Wheeler Memorial Library’s reopening.
“I’ve been waiting. I’m very excited to be back in the library,” she said. “I understand why they don’t have seating. I used to enjoy being able to sit and have coffee while doing my homework, but I’m just glad that it reopened.”
Lorraine Riedel, president of Friends of the Edith Wheeler Memorial Library, was among the steady stream of foot-traffic at the library Tuesday.
“I was so excited to be able to come in again and see the books and all the lovely librarians,” she said with a smile.
For the most recent updates at Edith Wheeler Memorial Library, visit its website.