PAOLA – With a smile and a wave, Paola Free Library Director Emily Burgdorf greets regular patron Bob Ayres as he takes a seat at one of the library’s computers.

It’s a scene that’s happened countless other times at the library, but everything is just a little bit different during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ayres is wearing a mask, the computer next to him is off limits due to social distancing protocol, and the library is far from bustling with activity because there is a limit of 10 patrons at any given time.

“The library is not closed, we’re still open” Burgdorf said.

Like many other public places, the library closed its doors mid-March when the pandemic started to spread in the United States, and library officials got to work mapping out a plan moving forward. Finding ways to keep serving the public was the top priority.

Only digital resources were available until May 18, when curbside pickup services began for material checkout, as well as printing, copying and faxing.

Starting June 11, the library began allowing patrons to make reservations to be inside the library. Patrons are guaranteed at least 45 minutes of computer, copier, fax or study room use.

Beginning Aug. 14, the library also began offering 30-minute browsing appointments.

Burgdorf said the library staff realizes that Internet is extremely important during the pandemic, so four Sprint hotspots are also available for checkout, and the library’s WI-FI is available without a password and extends out to some of the parking lot spaces on Agate Street.

All of the new regulations are creating extra work for the library’s staff members, but Burgdorf said it’s worth it to keep the patrons safe, especially since many of them are older and in the higher-risk category.

When checked out material is returned, the items are placed into quarantine in sealed containers and left there for varying amounts of time depending on the material. Most books are quarantined for four days, but magazines are sealed for five days, and cloth-bound books for seven days.

Books need to be quarantined because the library cannot sanitize the individual pages.

Burgdorf said the quarantine times all come from information detailed in the REALM project (Reopening Archives, Libraries and Museums).

Once the items are removed from quarantine, the outside covers are cleaned with a disinfectant wipe before being returned to the shelves.

Youth Services Director Cari Michael has always been busy recording story times and posting them on YouTube, as well as well as creating weekly craft kits that can be picked up.

Burgdorf said she realizes that some people may find the new reservation system frustrating, but she has also heard from several patrons who have thanked her and her team for taking the proper precautions.

“We know it is frustrating to some, but this won’t be forever,” Burgdorf said. “The staff misses the way things were just as much as everyone else.”

Editor and Publisher Brian McCauley can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or brian.mccauley@miconews.com.

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