The Haliburton County Public Library is preparing to reopen in Haliburton, Minden and Wilberforce next month with social distancing measures in place.

The County library board discussed the reopening plan at a special meeting Aug. 19. The libraries have been closed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but staff are working to allow people to return to browse materials and use computers. However, staff are planning to tentatively limit visits to 20 minutes.

Librarian Erin Kernohan-Berning said they will adjust the plan as they go, including extending visits if it proves safe.

“The plan as it stands is going to be in constant evaluation once we start,” she said. “We need to sort of test-drive it.”

The library has offered curbside pickup in recent months, starting June 25 in Dysart. That service will continue by request, though people will now also be able to enter the library to pick up holds. Service hours are limited to 25 hours per week in Dysart and Minden and 15 in Wilberforce.

Board members pressed about increasing the amount of time someone could be in a branch, noting how some people rely on the library for internet and computer access.

“If people are going to be driving or somehow getting into town because they have to use a computer, I really have a concern 20 minutes isn’t enough,” board member Carol Moffatt said.

Kernohan-Berning said she would try to extend that but noted the length of time indoors makes a difference to the transmission of COVID-19. She said staff would rather slowly expand that time by testing the plan, rather than clawing back if longer times do not work.

“This is part of our services that unfortunately is going to be lacking,” she said. “Because we want to keep patrons and staff safe, there are some sacrifices we need to make. I’m going to be extremely happy when we can reinstate a lot of that stuff.”

The plan features additional safety precautions for the library, with regular cleaning of high-touch surfaces, available hand-sanitizer, requested mask use and spaced out furniture and computers for physical distancing. The number of people in the building at once will also be limited.

Printing and photocopying will also be by-donation instead of a usual 10-cents-perpage charge.

“Partly because we don’t want to handle money,” Kernohan-Berning said. “Also, because we’re just in the times we’re in and people need a bit of a break.”

The date for reopening is not certain, but Kernohan-Berning said they are tentatively targeting Sept. 8.

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