--by John Noffsinger

Bibliophiles Unite: You have nothing to lose but your fines . . . .

Amid the pandemic gloom in the Shenandoah Valley, one small light is about to shine. Starting on July 13th, the Massanutten Regional Library system—all seven branches in the city of Harrisonburg and in Rockingham and Page counties—will reopen. Branches have been closed since mid-March, when the effects of the coronavirus began in earnest, though the libraries began accepting returns through outside return boxes in late May. In an admirable display of caution, these returned books have been quarantined for three days before being placed back on the shelves, and this practice will continue in the foreseeable future. And despite the lead for this article, there will also be no fines for overdue materials during the current quarantine period.

The libraries will have a new look that might at first seem out of the ordinary, though perhaps by now the unfamiliar is becoming more familiar. Tables and chairs have been removed to allow for social distancing, and daily newspapers, children’s toys, and jigsaw puzzles have also been removed. And while public computers will still be available, their use will be limited to 30 minutes per person. Similarly, library patrons will be asked to stay for no longer than 60 minutes at a time, and libraries will accommodate only 50% of their previous occupancy.

No one should be surprised to learn that what have become normal protocols will also be put in place. Patrons will be expected to wear masks, for example, as well as observe social distancing. Plexiglass dividers have been installed, and hand sanitizer will be available. Some of the larger branches (like that in downtown Harrisonburg) will have new traffic flows, and within the libraries high touch areas will be cleaned frequently throughout the day.

One change that might not be quite such good news is that curbside pickup service—available since the libraries’ closure—will be discontinued. This service allowed patrons to place a hold on books online and then have a librarian or staff member deliver them when patrons drove up to the library. Beginning July 13th patrons will once again need to go into the library to pick up books they have reserved. Still, this seems a small price to pay for a reinvigorated—and to some extent reinvented—library system trying like all of us to feel our way through the unprecedented demands of a pandemic.