At their first meeting of the year, Faribault’s Library Advisory Board looked back on a successful 2020 and discussed its plans to offer additional services as the state eases COVID-19 restrictions.

While the library is still working on a final report that will be sent to the city and state, Buckham Memorial Librarian Delane James said that traffic at the library was down by about half during 2020. However, James noted that interest in digital resources were up significantly.

“I was quite encouraged by what I saw,” she said. “For this year, I think it’s actually pretty great.”

James was particularly enthusiastic about the reception the library’s programming received. Even though the library had to move its programs online for the majority of the year, preliminary figures show that attendance increased by more than 10%.

Increased community interest in the library is extending to the Library Board itself, with five candidates applying to fill three positions on the board. Candidates will be considered by the Faribault City Council at a Jan. 19 work session, with final slates approved a week later.

The library will try to capitalize on increased interest by opening its doors a little further next week. For the first time since November, patrons will be able to make half-hour “browse and go” appointments, giving them the opportunity to look at new titles on the shelves.

The library first offered the service in June, but shuttered in November at the recommendation of City Administrator Tim Murray. At the time, Murray pledged that increased restrictions at the library as well as the adjacent Community Center would be relatively brief. Though it drew some community ire, the November shutdown was more limited than those implemented in the beginning of the pandemic. During the spring, for example, patrons weren’t even able to return books.

The library has been accepting returns since June, though items are quarantined for 72 hours before they're put back out on the shelves. Those who haven’t returned their books don’t have much to worry about, as the library has continued to waive all late fees.

Patrons who wish to access the internet through the library’s computers will continue to be disappointed, though James noted that the library’s WiFi does stretch into the parking lot. The library also hopes to begin loaning out WiFi hotspots, potentially as soon as next month.

James noted that the library is following the lead of others throughout the region in opening up services. Last week, 10 libraries affiliated with SELCO (Southeastern Libraries Cooperating) were fully closed, but eight of them began offering some services this week. While she pays attention to what area libraries are doing, James said that the library has always tailored its approach to COVID safety to the specific needs here in Faribault. She added that other libraries have approached the issue independently as well.

“Every library is so different,” she said. “But we do look at what other libraries in our state and area are doing.”

The library will also look ahead to the completion of the Plaza Project at the librarian's original entrance. A grand opening scheduled for the afternoon of May 22. Though what the state of COVID at that time will be is unclear, the Friends are cautiously making plans.

Key is the discussion as to whether the Friends would offer a simple celebration, perhaps with water and cookies, or go “all in” by organizing a big outdoor event with food and music, dancers and other entertainment that celebrates Faribault’s increasingly rich cultural diversity.

The Friends appear strongly inclined to organize a large event to celebrate the long awaited achievement. Once it’s complete, the space near the old library entrance will provide an intimate space for learning or conversation, separated from the parking lot by trees and shrubs.

Reach Reporter Andrew Deziel at 507-333-3129 or follow him on Twitter @FDNandrew. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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