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A new chapter: Libraries gradually reopen amidst coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic

The Portland Public Library, which welcomes 1,500 visitors a day, is trying to figure out what it's new normal will be moving forward

Like so many other businesses and organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Portland Public Library to close its doors.

It was able to continue offering online resources, but the tens of thousands of paper books have been sitting on the shelves untouched.

Before the pandemic,1,500 people a day visited the main branch of the Portland Public Library, but in mid-March, the library had to close to foot traffic.

They kept offering service, and in the second week of June, they slowly and safely started adding more.

One by one, people arrived at the Portland Public Library on Thursday to do something they haven't been able to do in months.

"It's been a long time since I've had a new book in my hands," said Francesca Paolelli, who reserved her library books back in March, but due to COVID-19, she couldn't pick them up until now.

"I'm so happy we're back in action. Thank you so much," Paolelli said.

Sarah Campbell the Executive Director of the Portland Public Library says the pandemic has been challenging for libraries that over the years have evolved from a place to just to get resources into places to gather and share ideas.

"That is what makes this time particularly hard because of the emphasis is away from the gathering."

Campbell says while they're doors have been closed they have been able to remain open for business digitally.

"It increased by almost 75 percent the use of e-books and audiobooks over this period."

They've also used this time to do a massive cleaning and gear up for the next chapter.

"We've been building our safety and cleaning protocols and disinfecting so we can be a safe place when we open to the public."

They're not ready to open to the public but they are gradually rolling out additional services. Books can now be returned at the outside drop off boxes. Books and other materials that will be quarantined for seven days.

RELATED: Maine libraries start curbside pickup service amid coronavirus, COVID-19

Credit: NCM
A note left in a book returned to the Portland Public Library after three months of not being open to the public because of Covid-19 pandemic

"Time is the best sanitizer for books because books are made from different materials. We have an operation where they come back and they sit in place for seven days until we check them back in."

Another priority is getting the books they've had on hold for book lovers like Francesca Paolelli.

"We started with books on the shelves and that was almost 1,200 items and it was over 600 patrons that had those as a request," said Campbell.

Starting Monday, the PPL To Go services will be open to the people looking to place new holds on books.

Credit: NCM

It's as simple as picking out an item, placing it on hold, and choosing a location for pick up.

"We know there is a huge pent up demand the entire time we've been closed. We have been in contact with people who are talking about how they are especially ready whether for deepening an interest or paying attention to a cultural issue right now or merely an escape. It is just so valuable to be able to read."

The Portland Public Library offers 1000 programs a year and while they can't happen in person right now they are doing what they can virtually including children's storytime, online book discussions and spotlight authors.

Information about Portland Public Libraries and it's PPL...To Go services, which begin June 8th, can be found on its website.  

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