Public gets inside access at Gibsons library for first time since pandemic hit

As of July 6, people wanting books from Gibsons and District Public Library will no longer have to order them like pizza – for the first time in four months, they can walk inside and browse the shelves themselves.

“We’re looking forward to it,” said library director Heather Evans-Cullen an hour before Monday’s official 10 a.m. opening. “If I could have a ribbon cutting or slab cake, I would.”

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At least five people had already arrived before opening hours, she said. Hours of operation are now Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Doors may finally be open again but operations are far from normal. For the first two weeks, a maximum of 20 patrons will be allowed inside at any given time, “to make sure we can maintain distancing,” said Evans-Cullen.

The layout has been modified and Plexiglas installed to maintain physical barriers, returned books are quarantined for 72 hours and staff wear face shields.

The library has been closed to the public since March, when public health restrictions due to COVID-19 took effect. In late May it began offering curbside pickup and drop-off services on site, but patrons weren’t able to enter the building.

The curbside “takeout” book service is still being offered and access to digital media “contactless services” such as audiobooks, ebooks and databases, remains available.

About 65 per cent of the Town of Gibsons residents are patrons of the library, far higher than the provincial average, said Evans-Cullen. “I think it’s a special relationship this community has with this library.” With the opening, “they’re coming back home a little bit.”

And with the opening, two other important services will now be available to the public: computers and washroom facilities. “Our washrooms will be open. That’s been a huge limitation for people who may be homeless or not have sustainable housing,” said Evans-Cullen, adding that washroom access was something B.C. provincial health officer Bonnie Henry had asked libraries to provide, if possible.

Takeout delivery remains in place at the Sechelt Public Library. Interim library director Leianne Emery anticipates opening the doors to the public to browse shelves by the start of August, but an exact date will depend on a potential building envelope project, “which will affect the library interior,” she said in an email.

In the meantime, three major interior construction projects are underway and protective glass is being installed. Those projects should be completed by July 20, at which point the library will begin adding limited public computer access and in-person tech help to the other services it is already providing, including offering materials for “takeout,” providing online and phone tech help, exam invigilation, photocopying and faxing services and reciprocal borrowing between Sechelt and Gibsons libraries.

The Sechelt library is aiming to have outdoor “under the tent programming” up and running for small groups within the next couple of weeks. And children can pick up their reading logs at either the Gibsons or Sechelt library for the Summer Reading Club. 

The Roberts Creek Community Library has been open to the public since June 19 but with modified hours.

In July, the library is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sundays from noon to 2 p.m., Tuesdays from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Safety conditions apply and instructions are available at the library’s entrance. Only one patron and child are allowed inside the building at a time.

A return to in-person services kicked off quietly at the Pender Harbour Reading Centre on July 2, according to board chair Karen Dyck. It is now open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will be fully staffed with volunteers until the end of August. As with the Roberts Creek library, only one person is allowed inside at a time with some exceptions for children. Masks are required for borrowers and volunteers. And because people have been dropping off materials throughout the COVID-19 epidemic, “we have lots of books on the shelf,” said Dyck.

Over the course of the pandemic, no orders have been issued by the provincial health officer requiring libraries to close.

A May 7 letter from Vancouver Coastal Health’s (VCH) deputy chief medical health officer Mark Lysyshyn stated that VCH “believes that the risk of COVID-19 transmission in these environments can be mitigated and consistent with B.C.’s Restart Plan, that it is possible to safely operate these facilities at this time.”

Libraries must operate with a COVID-19 safety plan in place that draws from WorkSafeBC protocols.

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