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Columbus-area libraries, bookstores beginning to offer services

The Columbus Dispatch — Peter Tonguette For The Columbus Dispatch The Columbus Dispatch

May 23--This past week, as the Gahanna branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library launched a curbside program for checkouts and returns, Alison Circle encountered a pretty memorable sight.

Circle, chief customer experience officer at the library, spotted a young woman returning about 100 books. The tomes had been checked out just before the coronavirus pandemic necessitated the closing of libraries throughout the state.

"I said, 'Oh, gosh, you must be a great reader,'" Circle said. "She said she had two kids who, on the day we closed, rushed to the library. Each child checked out the maximum amount of books of 50. And they were done with them."

With expanded services now available from the Columbus Metropolitan Library, readers throughout central Ohio can finally add to their list of checked-out titles.

On Monday, the library unveiled the new curbside program. Anyone with a library card can pick up reserved books or return others, outside the library's Hilliard, Gahanna and Parsons branches. Four additional branches -- Dublin, Northern Lights, Southeast and Whetstone -- will begin offering the same services on Tuesday.

"It was really great to see customers," Circle said. "They were very excited to drop off the returns and pick up their new material."

After reserving books or other media to be picked up at a particular location, patrons will receive an email alerting them that the items are ready. Upon arrival, customers will call staff members, who fetch the requested items, bag them and load into customers' car trunks.

Beginning Tuesday, other libraries also will be introducing programs to get items in the hands of readers.

The Westerville Public Library will allow patrons to pick up books placed in bags and labeled with their names from a table outside the drive-through window.

Southwest Public Libraries will begin the first phase of reopening with the start of pickup service for reserved items. Patrons will be notified when books are ready and can pick them up from tables set up near the main entrance of each building.

The Bexley Public Library will deliver requested items to customers' cars parked in designated spots; pedestrians and bicyclists can ring a bell to alert staff members to place requested items on a table for easy pick-up.

"We want to try to accommodate everybody," said Bexley Library Director Ben Heckman.

The libraries are following guidelines that call for newly dropped off books to be quarantined for 72 hours or longer, resulting in some lag time before they can be circulated again.

"As things come back, it'll take a while before they (are) made available for access to everybody," said Erin Francoeur, the executive director of the Westerville Public Library.

Bookstores, many of which have been offering curbside pickup throughout the pandemic, have begun opening their doors, albeit with capacity limits and the expectation that customers, in addition to workers, will wear face masks.

Since May 12, the Book Loft in German Village -- known for its winding, mazelike hallways -- has been inviting customers to use an app to set appointments to shop. To avoid crowding, appointments -- consisting of no more than two people -- are staggered every 5 minutes and are intended to last no longer than an hour. All patrons enter through a seldom-used entrance on South 3rd Street.

"The floor right now is just like a big giant grid, six feet apart, with tape," said sales manager Glen Welch. "There's a lot more signage: 'Narrow area,' 'Please take turns,' 'Practice social distancing.'"

Signs are posted to limit occupancy in specific rooms, many of them quite small, within the store.

"Since there are not so many people, it's a lot easier to shop, that's for sure," Welch said.

Gramercy Books in Bexley, which re-opened Monday, is also capping customers at any one time at 10 and encouraging social distancing.

"We opened after we had erected a Plexiglas barrier screen between the customer and the bookseller at the customers' checkout counter because that's really the only place that we didn't have a six-foot opportunity," said owner Linda Kass, adding that bookshelves themselves provide some built-in barriers.

"We would expect one customer per aisle," she said.

Not every central Ohio bookstore is joining the wave of re-openings. Bryan Loar, the general manager of Cover to Cover Children's Books in Upper Arlington, said his bookstore will continue curbside pickup, but plans to open the physical store remain in limbo.

Loar points to the challenge of enforcing mask-wearing and social distancing among young patrons. He is also concerned about the prevalence of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children associated with coronavirus.

On the whole, though, area librarians and booksellers are eager to encounter their customers -- even if they will greet them behind facial coverings.

Said Kass: "Our smiling faces are underneath."

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