As with many places, opening its doors to the public came to a screeching halt in March for the Sussex County Library System.
Now, after many months of planning and a nod from the state, all six branches are open: but there are protocols and appointments are required.
“The need to close the Sussex County Library buildings came up so suddenly that we determined pretty quickly that we had to be much more deliberate and intentional about reopening,” said Will Porter, Director of the Sussex County Library System. “We’ve got six well-used buildings, and the number of people in the area who rely on our services is very high, so we felt it best to have clear protocols for maximizing access to our services at minimal risk to the health of our residents and our staff.”
He said he met with assistant library director, Ellen Callanan, and they determined that this sort of plan could only come to fruition if it was well understood and executed by the entire staff. They established a Reopening Task Force made up of staff members from the larger branches, smaller branches, main library and several essential “behind the scenes” teams.
“That group met—and still meets—regularly over teleconference to discuss and adapt new rules from the State, guidance from the CDC, and best practices from other libraries and businesses all around the country that come to our attention,” Porter said. “The resulting plan they developed has exceeded my expectations and has acted as a model for other libraries around the state.”
For those who don’t yet feel safe going into public buildings, the library is offering a Grab-and-Go contactless checkout. People just need to call their local library to schedule a pickup.
“Guidance from the state has largely taken the form of executive orders,” Porter said. “We have taken great care to understand the requirements of those and make sure we are in compliance.”
When visiting the Sussex County Library System, it is paramount to make any appointment. The executive orders governing libraries currently limit us to 25 percent of each building’s capacity, so the library system is obligated to have a strict accounting of the number of people in the building at any given time. To this end, appointments are begin given every hour on the hour, and run for 45 minutes. After each round of appointments, the library is sanitized and common surfaces thoroughly disinfected in preparation for the next round of appointments.
“It’s certainly a departure from our normal mode of operations, but we have been very pleased with the way it has allowed us to offer the services Sussex County residents rely on without compromising their safety in these unprecedented times,” Porter said. “Just call your local branch or go online to our website to book an appointment.”
Going forward, the library anticipates more use of its online resources.
“If there’s a silver lining to this pandemic for public libraries, it’s the way it has focused public attention on the ebooks, downloadable audiobooks, magazines, comics, etc., that we have offered for many years, but that had only really become tremendously popular with our most tech-savvy users,” Porter said. “They are so easy to use these days — just a smartphone app plus your library card number —that they were picking up steam slowly but surely. Since March, combined usage each month has been nearly double that of the same month in 2019. In fact, if we think of those platforms as our seventh Sussex County Library System ‘branch,’ that ‘branch’ has checked out as many items through July this year as half of our brick-and-mortar locations did all of last year. And that’s to say nothing of our subscription database services like Ancestry, Consumer Reports, Rosetta Stone, and Job & Career Accelerator.”
Jerry Galante, branch librarian at the Dorothy Henry Library Branch, agrees that the usage of digital offerings has seen an upswing.
“We also offer a digital readers’ advisory service called ‘MatchBook’ wherein librarians will automatically place holds on items (digital and physical) that they feel you would want to read after you’ve answered a few short questions about your preferences, Galante said. “Hoopia is another product we offer to our patrons that is a streaming service where people can watch movies and TV shows, listen to music or audiobooks, download ebooks, and enjoy comics.”