Edmonton

City libraries not ready to reopen, but EPL exploring 'takeout' service

Public libraries in Alberta can soon reopen, but as borrowed books will need to be quarantined, turning the page on lockdown measures will take time.

Edmontonians asked to keep their overdue books a little while longer

When the province enters Stage 2 of its relaunch strategy on Friday, public libraries will be allowed to open for the first time in months. (Thinglass / Shutterstock)

Public libraries in Alberta can soon reopen, but as borrowed books will need to be quarantined, turning the page on lockdown measures will take time.

When the province enters Stage 2 of its relaunch strategy Friday, public libraries will be allowed to open for the first time in months.

The Edmonton Public Library, however, will not fully reopen its facilities to the public right away. 

Staffing challenges and safety concerns brought on by the health crisis will delay a return to regular operations, said Sharon Day, director of branch services and collections

"We're not going to open the floodgates," Day said. "We don't have a date yet. Plans are certainly happening feverishly on our end to see when we can open."

All 21 EPL branches have been closed since March 14 when COVID-19 health restrictions shut down businesses and services across the province. In the weeks that followed, as the city attempted to contend with the financial outfall of the pandemic, the library temporarily laid off 500 employees, about 75 per cent of its staff.

'We've got a lottery' 

On Friday, instead of returning to regular operations, a few branches will begin dealing with a backlog of hold requests by lending out books to a select few. 

The pilot program launched this week at the Lois Hole and Whitemud Crossing branches where more than 1,000 hold requests have been sitting idle. 

Select card holders will be invited to come in and pick up their books, one at a time, as the titles become available.

"It's called Library Takeout and it's a very small scale hold, pickup service," Day said in an interview Wednesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. 

"If you have a hold on the shelf at one of those two pilot locations, you will potentially be getting an email invitation to participate in the pilot. 

"We haven't invited all customers with holds ... we've got a lottery happening." 

The pilot program will expand to the Clareview and Millwoods branches on Monday. Additional sites will be added to the pilot program in the coming weeks, Day said. 

Customers who have been holding onto overdue books since the branches shut down should not return them unless they are participating in the pilot, Day said. 

"We have well over 250,000 items that are out right now," Day said. "If it all comes back at one time, we won't be able to manage that volume.

"We just don't have the staff on site. It will just pile up and overflow." 

But the books themselves are part of the reason for the delay. Additional cleaning and sanitization measures will be in place throughout EPL facilities but books will have to be "quarantined" for 72 hours upon their return.

"The thing about books is, there is no way to really clean them," she said. 

"People who are in our space, everything is being shared which is a great service and a great philosophy but is just really tricky during a pandemic." 

The thing about books is, there is no way to really clean them.- Sharon Day

When libraries do open, it will be a phased approach, Day said. Services will return slowly and there will be limits on access to the stacks and other services such as public computers.

"We're very eager to move as quickly fast. We also want to be cautious to make sure we're doing it safely."

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