[Posted July 16, 2021]
After more than a year of pandemic closure, the Hillsdale Library re-opened for in-person services on Wednesday, July 13th.
Hillsdale was among the first branches to be re-opened following the lifting of most restrictions by Governor Kate Brown on June 30th. Five library locations, including Capitol Hill, opened for in-person services on June 1st, while Hillsdale and most other locations remained open only for pre-scheduled curbside hold pick-ups. All other locations will re-open on a rolling schedule through August.
Hillsdale branch manager Jay Hadley reports that visitors on Wednesday totaled 337, or about two-thirds of the 500-600 daily visitors the library counted before anti-pandemic measures closed all library buildings to the public for 16 months.
Among the first to return on Wednesday were families, as well as longstanding adult patrons, many of whom were daily visitors before the pandemic. Families with children, says Hadley, arrived almost immediately to browse and pick up books.“They were there as soon as the doors opened,” he says. “People were very happy to have the library back, and staff were very excited to see them again.”
Allie Meristem and Hatcher, her 5-year old son, were in the children’s area on Thursday, taking turns reading aloud. The Meristems, who live just outside of Hillsdale, used to visit twice a week before the pandemic. Meristem says they are delighted to be back in the library again.
On a recent visit, the library looked just the same as it did before the long closure: books and DVDs on display, rows of computers ready for use, stacks begging to be browsed. A sparse magazine selection seemed to be the exception.
Books on hold awaiting pick-up have returned to their place on the shelves on the east wall, but are more spread out to allow for physical distancing. Bathrooms are open, two study rooms are available by reservation at the service desk (the other two are being used as staff work spaces to allow for physical distancing).
Masks are required for staff, and are recommended but optional for library visitors.
Participation in this year's summer reading programs is strong, reports Hadley. Both teen and adult games (the adult version is called Read 4 Life) have been simplified to make participation easier and more accessible for all abilities.
Staffing levels have not quite returned to normal following retirements and other employee moves. In-person volunteering programs are still on hold. Also still to come are in-person story times, resumption of the interlibrary loan program, and public meeting room use.
The big change, Hadley says, is that everything is free: overdue fines are a thing of the past following policy changes that took place in 2020, and there are no fees for printing (up to 100 pages per document), faxing, or scanning. Signs posted advise that even bottled water is free.
Library staff knew the re-opening would come this summer and had been planning for months, but a just few weeks ago they were given an actual date. That’s when they kicked into high gear, says Hadley, “to get everything ready for the people.”
Hayhurst resident Diane Nichol arrived at the library on Thursday expecting to pick up her holds curbside and was thrilled to discover that the building had opened to the public. During the closure she used the online system to check out paper books and e-books, but with the re-opening she is free to indulge her love of browsing the shelves.
Putting the library back together took some time and planning, says Hadley. Display books were moved back inside from the entryway where they had been placed behind the curbside pick-up desk. Public areas were reclaimed and put back in order after being re-purposed during the closure for storage and expanded work space to allow staff to maintain 6 feet of distance.
The task of turning on the public computers, which had not been powered up for 16 months, was one of the most time-consuming aspects of re-opening according to Hadley. Preparing the computers was a priority, as community engagement surveys during the pandemic indicated that computer access is the number one need among library patrons.
Hadley guesses that those without computers or internet access at home were the most impacted by the closure. Patrons lacking the necessary technology to place holds online, many of them former regular visitors at the Hillsdale branch, showed up at the curbside holds pick-up desk for help. Devising a work-around, staff members asked about those customers’ needs and interests and were able to put together “curated book packages.”
The Hillsdale Library is back to providing almost all of the services we associate with a library: books, DVDs, CDs, computer and internet access, and technical assistance. But Hadley points out another important, sometimes overlooked, amenity provided by the library. “It's super important for people to have the actual space" he says. "A lot of people just want to be there to work, to think, just to be."
The Hillsdale Library has been identified as a candidate for a "refresh" using funds from the bond measure approved by voters in 2020. Our local branch will be assessed for updates such as paint, carpet, furniture, and other patron amenities. Outreach for community engagement in the planning is expected to begin soon. Learn more at the Multnomah County Library's building bond webpage.
What do you think is the most important thing about the library? Let us know.