Devon libraries prepare for phased reopening

  Posted: 15.06.20 at 13:40 by Francesca Evans

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LIBRARIES across Devon are preparing for a phased reopening from July 6.

Devon has 50 public libraries and four mobile libraries managed by Libraries Unlimited on behalf of the county council.

They have all been closed since lockdown measures were first introduced on March 23 but are now making preparations to once again open their doors.

Alex Kittow, chief executive of Libraries Unlimited, said: "Due to COVID-19 our library buildings have been closed since March 23 and our mobile library and home library service have been suspended. It has been an extraordinary time and we have rapidly adjusted to the situation.

"Our physical libraries may be closed but our staff have been working hard to adapt our service and deliver our library service online. Staff have supported our digital library, created online content, telephoned our most vulnerable customers, attended online training, developed ideas for our future services and welcomed over 4,000 new users to our digital platform. 

"With so many new members joining, it’s been important for us to enable immediate access to our digital library so everyone could obtain the resources they needed."

Updating library users on the phased reopening, Mr Kittow continued: "Our team has been busy preparing so that we can safely welcome you back into our libraries in a phased approach.

The government has announced that libraries can start to reopen from Monday, July 6. We are closely watching government plans and announcements as timings will be influenced by the R number (rate of infection) in order to ensure that this number is kept in line with the target.  In line with this guidance we will adjust our plans accordingly.

"Staff, volunteer and customer safety is our main priority.  We are operating a phased approach to our reopening plans following government guidance, health and safety advice and risk assessment protocol. 

"We are working closely with our library staff in order to appropriately prepare our buildings and implement systems to keep both staff and customers safe.

"Libraries are a vibrant part of our communities and we welcome many visitors to our 54 libraries across Devon and Torbay.  We will be starting with a contactless ‘Choose & Collect’ service which will be available at most of our libraries and we also anticipate four pilot libraries opening initially with limited public access to the building and bookable sessions on public computers. 

"We will be operating on reduced opening hours and our phased plan will enable us to operate in a socially distanced way. 

"The stock team has already returned to prepare for our reopening and to complete tasks they have been unable to do from home. Our library staff will start to return to our buildings to prepare for when we can welcome visitors back into our spaces.

"From Monday, July 6, we will offer a limited service at four pilot libraries (Braunton, Brixham, Chudleigh and Honiton) and will roll out opening across Devon and Torbay in the following weeks. 

"Both mobile libraries and the home library service have extra considerations for social distancing and we will announce our plans for them shortly. 

"Getting our services up and running requires careful planning and information will be shared with customers on a regular basis.

"We will need your help and support as we return to our libraries. Please follow our social distancing and safety guidelines at all times and consider our staff and other users when you are in our libraries. 

"Help us to deliver the best service to you and let’s work together as we progress our plans..

Mr Kittow said library services will look different for the foreseeable future with measures in place including:

- Limited opening times and reduced staffing - this is for the safety of staff and will enable them to have time to retrieve stock for requests, answer email and phone enquires, prepare items ready for collection and ensure safety and hygiene regimes are followed.

- For safety reasons libraries may initially be offering a more limited selection of stock for people to choose from. All books and items returned to the library will undergo 72 hours quarantine before they are discharged from customer accounts and returned to the library shelves. Customers will be asked to place returned items into a box at the library to keep them separate from books that are ready to be loaned.

- The reservation service will not be operating initially, instead a free of charge ‘Choose and Collect’ service will be available where customers can select books or request a selection of books, via email or telephone from their local library, ready for collection from the library entrance at a pre-arranged time. The full reservation system will be reintroduced after all libraries reopen.

- From late June some of our libraries will be offering a new contactless book delivery service to customers who live within walking or cycling distance of the library. This will be of benefit to customers who are shielding, vulnerable or unable to travel to the library, as well as those who are digitally excluded and not able to access our eBooks online.

- Libraries will be following national guidance on social distancing and safety precautions. They will have signs, floor markings and information posters to help everyone understand the procedures to follow. All libraries will have hand sanitiser for customers to use when they enter the building.

- Services such as computer access, printing and photocopying will be available in pilot libraries with a view to rolling-out these services as more libraries reopen.

- Events in libraries will remain suspended for now but people can still enjoy the activities and events which library staff are streaming and sharing online.
Libraries Unlimited will continue to develop its online digital offer so you have plenty of choice from the comfort of your home. Find out more via  the Devon Libraries website.

Libraries Unlimited has extended current loans through to the end of August 2020 in order to phase book returns. Customers should continue to hold onto books, CDs and DVDs and should not make a special visit to libraries to return items. You will be able to return them from when your library reopens throughout July and August and there will be no fines as your current loan period has been extended.

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