Director says Cooke County Library functions more like a grocery store than a hangout these days

Glass partitions have been installed in the Cooke County Library for safety after the library reopened its doors Monday, May 18.

The Cooke County Library is finally opening its doors again. The library officially reopened Monday, May 18, with safety protocols in place and new ideas in mind.

The first few days have been steady, according to library Director Jennifer Johnson-Spence, and she expects that to grow as people become more comfortable leaving their homes.

“I talked to our workers and I know it wasn’t overly busy but there was a steady flow of people coming in,” Johnson-Spence said. “I know a lot of people were just happy we were open and we had a lot of people still use curbside services and we’ll continue to offer that because that’s an easy way to pick up your stuff. There are so many obstacles.”

The library is now open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Several changes have been made to the layout at the library, 200 S. Weaver St., due to social distancing requirements.

“The library looks completely different now,” Johnson-Spence said. “The comfortable chairs are gone and the library isn’t a place to hang out right now. It’s kind of like the grocery store. You get in and get out. We took half of the tables out because they were too close together and each of the tables that are left only have one chair. The iPads for the teens and the kids are not out to use. The children’s computers aren’t available either.”

Johnson-Spence said stripping away the comfortable nature of the library is tough to accept because of how important libraries are for society.

“They are where people can hold meetings and now libraries are seen as third places,” Johnson-Spence said. “They are the places we go a lot, but we don’t consider them work or home. It’s a concept in sociology that fosters civic engagement. They’re really a place that you go and bond. We don’t really think about them until we don’t have them.”

While changes have been forced upon the library, Johnson-Spence said she hopes people will understand.

“Until people are comfortable, we’re just going to have to be patient with people and people are going to have to be patient with us,” Johnson-Spence said. “We’re learning things too and so much of what we’ve done before has changed. That’s going to be true for everybody.”

Along with putting tape on the floor to help guide patrons to stay far enough apart, Johnson-Spence said the library has had to take several other precautions.

“We were already cleaning and maintenance comes in three days a week and we clean the other days,” Johnson-Spence said. “We’re wiping things down and we’re quarantining the books and they have to be in a room for a week because we don’t have enough supplies like disinfectant to clean them down. We’ve cleaned books coming in for years, but now we have to have a process. That kind of puts a damper on how quick you get something, but safety first.”

Under Gov. Greg Abbott’s requirements for the reopening of libraries, strict guidelines for employees must be followed including the mandatory face masks if available, constant washing of hands and maintaining social distance.

The library also installed glass partitions at checkout stations for everyone’s protection.

The library is continuing to make ear savers with its 3D printer.

“We figured out how to make the masks and we got the cleaning kit that we needed two weeks ago and that made a huge difference,” Johnson-Spence said. “We have made just about under 200 and this is probably the last week we’ll make for a while. The printer kept jamming and it was frustrating. Once we got the design down and started printing them, it was jamming up.”

Johnson-Spence expects an influx of people using the computers and printers. The library is asking patrons to make appointments for those so workers have time to clean in between use.

Reopening is a double-edged sword in Johnson-Spence’s opinion.

“We’re happy because we know there are people that didn’t use our service as much as they would have,” Johnson-Spence said. “People are happy and our staff is happy, but for me, I think because it’s such a big drastic change, it’s hard to know how to feel. You’re cautious though because you’re seeing people you haven’t seen in a while.”

Looking forward, the library is preparing its summer reading program while also toying with the idea of providing a summer book club with Gainesville ISD.

Johnson-Spence says its frustrating that they library won’t be able to offer its usual summer programs.

“We had people that called to see if we had children’s classes,” Johnson-Spence said. “Now, we’re working on our summer reading program, but preschool kids can’t be taught how to stay six feet apart from each other. People can’t social distance properly and kids don’t want to wear a mask. It just doesn’t make sense. We can still offer the same stuff and we’ll offer even more classes this summer like adult crafting classes.”

Thinking outside the box is something Johnson-Spence said the library will continue to do.

”We’re trying to do things with things people have at home,” Johnson-Spence said. “We’re looking to make some STEM and art kits to go. We’re trying to get people things to do because people are not going to vacation the way they used to.”

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