Frederick County Public Libraries will begin a phased reopening on June 1 as the county begins to lift restrictions.
The library system initially shut down on March 16 due to concerns about COVID-19.
With the reopening, patrons will not be able to enter libraries, but FCPL will offer phone service and curbside pickup, according to Beth Heltebridle, branch administrator of the C. Burr Artz Public Library in downtown Frederick.
Curbside pickup will be available for books and other items placed on hold either through the FCPL website or by phone.
“Basically, it will give customers a library-to-go experience,” Heltebridle said.
Once customers request items, they will receive a notification when their materials are ready. Then they can select an appointment time to pick up their order.
Curbside pickup will be available at all nine FCPL branches, although service days and times will vary based on location.
Libraries that see a high amount of foot traffic, such as the downtown branch, will also have a modified pickup available for those that may not arrive in a vehicle, Heltebridle said.
Those that signed up for a digital library card after the shutdown in March may also place up to three items on hold for pickup.
“We’ve made sure that digital cards can also place holds ... so that those folks that came to love the library during this time can have a little bit of the physical library as well,” Heltebridle said.
She hopes that the return of this physicality will help those that have missed visiting the branches.
“I think that being able to hold a library book that is a physical representation of a shared community resource ... I think that’s huge,” Heltebridle said. “For little ones especially ... having this curbside library-to-go experience hopefully will bring a little bit of that excitement back.”
Materials that are picked up can be returned through each branch’s book drop, and all due dates have been extended. Additionally, no late fees are being applied to library accounts at this time, Heltebridle said, so customers may hold on to materials if they wish.
Additionally, each branch is following health guidelines when materials are returned and quarantining materials for 72 hours in a designated area before bringing them back into circulation.
“When staff are emptying the book drop and moving them into quarantine, they are wearing gloves and facial coverings,” she said.
Staff will also be in the buildings daily to answer phones and help with any inquiries.
“Whether it’s something about utilizing some of our digital collections ... or if folks are looking for information about what resources in the community are available right now ... or if there’s just somebody who ... wants to call and see what the weather’s going to be like tomorrow,” Heltebridle said. “We will be answering all sorts of questions.”
Heltebridle said FCPL was lucky in that they did not lose any staff in the last two months because of the shutdown, but added that branches may not be fully staffed for a while due to restrictions, which may affect the service.
"Normally our service model is very attentive and as quick as possible ... there may be some longer wait times to get materials than usual just because there are less staff in the building,” Heltebridle said. “We are asking for some understanding and some patience.”
In addition to the reopening, the FCPL annual summer challenge will begin on June 1. This year’s theme is “Explore, Invent, and Transform Your Story.”
Librarian Mindy McDonnell said although this year’s challenge will be different in that everything is virtual, the experience should still be the same.
“All of the elements that people have traditionally loved about the summer challenge are still there,” she said.
The challenge is open to all ages and those participating can win prizes throughout the summer for reading, playing board games and virtually visiting local destinations.
As of now, Heltebridle said it is unclear when FCPL will enter the next phase of its reopening plan but that it will continue to follow guidelines from government and health officials and add services when allowed.
For herself and staff however, they are excited to be back and assisting the community.
“At the end of day, we want library access to be the least of someone’s worries,” Heltebridle said.