Behind the scenes of the library in a pandemic

Librarian under glass: Adrianne Schinkai behind the plexiglass.

By Adrianne M. Schinkai, Head of Reference & Circulation Services, Vicksburg District Library

It’s one year into the COVID-19 pandemic and the employees of the Vicksburg District Library are holding their own. However, the pandemic has left them all enervated.

A year ago, the Library closed down for over two months as numbers of cases for the virus quickly rose throughout the country and the state of Michigan. Since then, the Library has gone through various phases of being open and closed. The whole process, however, is cumbersome and very detailed. Libraries across the nation have never had to run this way before. “The circumstances of the prior year have been singular and completely unexpected,” states Library Director Eric Hansen. As a result, staff of the Library acknowledge that while they are still working to give the best service possible for the community, they have hit a wall with the pandemic, just as their patrons have.

Youth Services Librarian Stephanie Willoughby shares these sentiments. “It’s been hard not being able to see and interact with children and teens. I have been unable to visit school and daycares to lead live programs. I’m like so many of our children with being burned out on virtual programs.”

What exactly is going on behind the scenes at the Library during the pandemic?

Since late October, the Vicksburg District Library had been providing services at a limited capacity strictly by appointment only. The Library is currently operating at 25% capacity with a strict face mask policy in place. Changes have been abundant since last year.

With each new announced press release, mandate, or executive order issued by the Kalamazoo County Health Department, the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services, or Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the Library has needed to tailor its services to meet the latest guidelines. This is no easy task as it involves updated availability on circulating items, hours the library can provide services, and how those services are specifically handled. All programming has been changed from in-person to virtual/online. In addition, when items are returned to the library, they all are immediately quarantined for a period of seven days before they are checked in and available for patrons once more. All of this has been done with the safety and health of the staff and patrons in mind.

Hansen says, “The staff of the Vicksburg District Library have worked to incorporate the best advice from doctors and medical researchers, as well as legal requirements issued by the local and state governments, to assist in protecting our community…we have tried to be diligent in continuing services that we can safely offer.”

With each change put in place because of the pandemic, whether involving face mask policies, switching to curbside service only, or closing physical buildings entirely, libraries across the nation are in a constant state of adapting. They are universally sharing the same issues when it comes to quarantining items, adjusting services, and assisting patrons from a distance. Depending on the changes needed as stated by the government, the work can be tedious. With the vaccine rollout across the nation, some librarians have been left disheartened that they don’t qualify to receive the injections. Libraries are sometimes classified as educational, governmental, and/or retail institutions, but the State of Michigan has ruled libraries as non-essential at this time.

Locally, Vicksburg District Library staff is striving hard to serve the community as best they can through online programming, in-person services, and protocols that have everyone’s safety and health in mind. Hansen smiles. “We fervently look forward to a time when we can see all of our patrons again…we really look forward to providing a place where the community can gather.”

Willoughby agrees. “It certainly has been a year of throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks!”

Those with questions or concerns about what is currently being provided by the library can contact the Vicksburg District Library at (269) 649-1648. The latest information is also always posted on the library’s website at vicksburglibrary.org and on its social media accounts.

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