Residents hoping to peruse the stacks of Madison’s Public Libraries will have to wait at least another couple months.
The Madison Public Library Board on Thursday delayed a decision on whether to reopen the city’s nine libraries for in-person book browsing because of continuing COVID-19 concerns. The buildings have been largely shuttered since the start of the pandemic, though open for curbside pickup and some limited in-person services.
A proposed plan would have set the in-person reopening date for April 19, but the board pushed the plan to its May 6 meeting. If approved then, the earliest the libraries could be ready to open would be May 24, said Krissy Wick, director of public services for the Madison Public Library.
The delay was approved on a near-unanimous voice vote, with only board member Jolynne Roorda heard in opposition.
Those in support of temporarily shelving the plan said they felt the libraries should wait until vaccines are more widely available. Board member Jaime Healy-Plotkin said some of the hourly staff in the libraries are not yet eligible for the vaccine.
Board member Cindy Fesemyer said she’s encouraged by the rollout of vaccines and feels herd immunity may be in sight, but the county is not there yet.
“I guess I don’t understand the push to do it right now. It’s all so close,” she said. “I would like us to take our time and open well.”
Library Director Greg Mickells said the April reopening plan was made with the guidance of public health officials and with input from library staff.
Mickells said capacity would not have exceeded 50%, masks would have been mandated, seating would be limited or unavailable and a greeter at the door would have explained expectations to people as they entered. The reopening would have resumed in-person browsing, self-pickup for holds and basic desk services.
The goal was for people to come in and out of the buildings quickly, but library staff would not have enforced time limits, Wick said.
“We will be trying to make our buildings show as much as possible that this is a transactional environment,” Wick said of the potential reopening. “So it’s not the come and stay, it’s more of a please move along as quickly as you can to find the things that you’re looking for.”
John Hausbeck, public health supervisor at Public Health Madison and Dane County, said other city agencies have successfully resumed some in person services with precautions, such as masking and Plexiglas barriers. While he said it would be safer if nobody went to the library in person, it’s an important city service that could be resumed.
“We feel that it is within the public health orders to see additional services happening at the libraries,” he said.
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