Libraries and museums getting ready to reopen soon

Stacy Sobotka, of Stiring Heights Michigan, listens to an audio presentation at the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery. Glenn Ogilvie file photo

For those pining for basic cultural services to return, I’ve got some good news.

Management and staff who operate local libraries, museums and the downtown art gallery went back to work July 6 to figure out how to safely reopen.

Lambton’s general manager of cultural services expects most facilities will be operating again in just a few weeks.

It won’t be business as usual, says Andrew Meyer. Employees and the public will have to adapt to protocols in place to keep COVID-19 at bay. Services won’t be in full swing.

But the county, which owns the facilities, understands their importance to the community.

“We’re eager to welcome people back,” said Meyer.  “Culture is important and it’s been missed during this pandemic.

“There is a need for this kind of interaction.  We need to be engaged with art and heritage.”

It’s been four months since the doors on all 25 library branches, museums and the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery were locked and staff sent home.

Layoff notices were issued to 126 people on April 6.

In the weeks that followed, with the community locked down, a hunger for reading material emerged and the demand for electronic resources hit record highs.

In May alone, more than 20,000 library eBooks and e-audiobooks were signed out online, more than at any time in the library’s history.

When limited curbside pickup for library books was introduced in June, about half the department’s workforce was recalled to facilitate the wildly popular service.

In its first week, Lambton libraries loaned 4,317 items to 1,200 borrowers, said Meyer.

“It’s hugely successful and will continue for the foreseeable future.”

Library staff is busy disinfecting every book that was in circulation when the pandemic hit. That’s about 25,000 items being cleaned and placed into quarantine for 72 hours.

The cleaning and quarantining must remain in place for now, which means the stacks can’t open to the general public. Every single book in the stacks would have to be cleaned and re-cleaned, explained Meyer. And that’s not possible.

He’s meeting this week with union groups to finalize reopening plans, but anticipates that within four to six weeks libraries will add scheduled appointments for computer use and reference services.

Work is also under way to reopen Sarnia’s downtown art gallery in the next several weeks. That means patrons will be allowed in again to see exhibitions interrupted when the gallery closed abruptly on March 17.

Protocols will include social distancing, frequent disinfecting, and directing traffic flow to keep people away from one another in the galleries. Staff is also preparing a new Group of Seven show for the fall with works from the permanent collection.

“We still have staff who haven’t been recalled, but once we confirm how to manage public access to our facilities there will be additional recalls,” Meyer said.

“We won’t go back to the normal we had before COVID-19, but we’ll have a new normal based on physical distancing restrictions and modified service.

“It all really demonstrates our ability to innovate,” he said.

Note:  The curbside pickup service is available now at 13 branches: Mallroad, Bright’s Grove, Point Edward, Corunna, Petrolia, Oil Springs, Wyoming, Alvinston, Florence, Forest, Sombra, Thedford and Watford. Cardholders can reserve titles by calling a branch or online at lclibrary.ca