The Lamar County Library System has started the second stage of its reopening process as of May 12, with limited services to the public at each of the system’s four libraries – Oak Grove, Sumrall, Purvis and Lumberton.
No patrons will be allowed inside the building, but curbside or window-side pickup will be offered from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on weekdays. Guests can request library materials through the system’s online catalog or over the phone and then pick up the items at the library.
By the end of this week, each library’s Facebook page will include links to guides for searching the online catalog, accessing digital materials and placing items on hold for later pickup.
“I’m very excited,” library system director Diane DeCesare Ross said. “I started as the new library system director on April 1, and the libraries have been closed to the public since mid-March. I’m eager to see us restore services to our patrons and get a better idea of where we shine and where we need improvements.
“At the same time, I’m also a little anxious. The information about COVID-19 and its spread seems to be changing every day. We care about the safety of our staff and patrons, so we need to find a balance that allows us to provide public services while keeping the public health crisis in mind.”
In addition, the book drops at the libraries have been reopened, and interlibrary loan, limited telephone reference and parking lot Wi-Fi will continue.
Limited online programming also is available, including a live weekly story time at 10 a.m. on Thursdays for the Sumrall branch and at-home story time at 10:30 a.m. on Thursdays for the Purvis branch. Those programs can be accessed on the Facebook pages.
DeCesare Ross said public libraries contribute to quality of life and serve as community centers of sorts, especially in times of crisis.
“Think about the time after Hurricane Katrina: libraries were providing essential services and central meeting places almost immediately,” she said. “They hosted emergency responders, provided phone and Internet access to residents, acted as clearinghouses for relief resource information and gave people a place to relax a little.
“Sometimes, the library was the one of the few places with air conditioning and clean restrooms. When library materials could be made available, the books and DVDs helped people give their minds a break from the catastrophe around them.
Of course, with Hurricane Katrina we didn’t have social distancing and a contagious disease in the mix. We’ve never had to deal with a public health crisis at the magnitude of COVID-19, so we’re breaking new ground.”
Libraries also serve as an invaluable resource for those who may not have reliable internet access at home, including parents who are homeschooling their children and employees who are working from home.
“With internet access, the library is essential to help people work and learn from home,” DeCesare Ross said. “With the unemployment rate rising to an unprecedented level, the library can also be indispensable for people needing to access job search and unemployment resources – so much of that is online now.
“We’ve been lucky to be able to provide some internet access from the library parking lots and do story times online while the library buildings have been closed to the public. We are working to safely restore the rest of our services as quickly as possible because we know our libraries are essential to our communities.”
Restoration of limited services is part of a four-stage process in reopening the four branches of the library system.
Stage 1 began May 4, when regular staff schedules resumed and employees started to prepare the facilities for the eventual return of the public. Officials had hoped to allow the public into the buildings this week on a limited schedule, but that step was postponed until the necessary supplies are received.
In Stage 3, the library will be open to the public and all library services will be provided on a limited schedule – so long as adequate sanitation supplies are available. Although an exact timeline for this step has not been set, officials are hopeful to get to Stage 3 by the middle of June.
In Stage 4, the library will be fully open to the public, with access and all library services provided under normal procedures and schedules. That stage also does not have a set timeline.
“During our preparations this week, I was finally able to visit all the branches and meet all our staff,” DeCesare Ross said. “Of course, everybody likes having a break from work, but the stories I’ve been hearing tell me that staff miss the patrons and want to return to regular library programming.
“At headquarters and at every branch, we’ve had phone calls asking about our reopening, community members knocking on locked doors and peering through windows, and people approaching us outside the library to let us know that they’re eager to get back in the library. I know they wish we’d reopen faster – and I’d feel the same in their shoes – so we appreciate their patience and kindness very much. It’s good that we’re missed.”