Frederick County Public Libraries will open their doors to the public next week for the first time in more than a year.
Starting Tuesday, each branch will begin operating at 30 percent capacity, FCPL Director James Kelly said at a press briefing Thursday. Patrons will be able to browse the shelves and use the computers, but meeting and study rooms still won’t be available, he said.
Every branch will continue to offer curbside pickup services, Kelly added. Masks will be required for all visitors over the age of 5.
“We are thrilled to finally be welcoming customers back into branches and turning the page on this past year,” Kelly said.
Library staff will be limiting capacity to make sure customers feel comfortable and able to physically distance, County Executive Jan Gardner said, and staff remain conscious of the county’s high number of unvaccinated residents.
Kelly also announced the libraries will be eliminating the fine system on June 15. In 2019, FCPL began phasing out late penalties by removing them for all children’s materials. The economic hardship brought on by the coronavirus pandemic spurred them to take the next step, Kelly said.
“Libraries across the country have embraced this change,” Kelly said. “We are proud to update our own policies and join this growing movement that removes a barrier to our resources.”
Customers will still be charged replacement fees for lost or damaged items.
The libraries’ reopening is possible mainly due to the county’s rapidly improving virus metrics, Gardner said Thursday. Hospitalizations have dropped by 60 percent over the past two weeks. Five people have died from the virus in the month of May.
Since the pandemic began, more than 600 county employees have had to shift — either part or full time — to work outside of their job description, Gardner said. More than 40 of those were library staffers who worked at vaccination clinics across the county.
Over the past few weeks, the county hired more than 200 people to staff its vaccine centers, Gardner said, allowing some county employees to resume their normal duties without interruption.
“That helped us, being able to pivot back to reopening,” Kelly said.
With trials for the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in kids aged 5-11 underway, the shot could be approved for that age range in the fall. If that happens, Gardner said, the county will likely see a boost in demand for vaccinations, which may require some county employees to head back to clinic duty.
But in the meantime, Gardner said, the county will continue to navigate the process of resuming its normal services.
“Reopening is different, division to division,” Gardner said. “It’s more complicated than closing things down was.”