It has been a long, abnormal year for the Owatonna Public Library. Though people may believe that a librarian would welcome the opportunity to be alone with the books, the director of the local library said it has felt like being trapped in “bizarro world.”
“Especially in the first couple months of being shut down it was just weird coming to work,” said Mark Blando, recalling the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that effectively shut library doors. “We were spending hours and hours in this quiet building without kids in our children’s area or programs upstairs. It’s been a strange year for everyone and the library certainly was not excluded in that.”
In an effort to continually inch back toward normal operations, the library opened for “express hours” on Monday, allowing people to come into the library without an appointment and browse or use the computer for up to 45 minutes at a time. Blando said this was a much welcomed change of pace by both the staff and library patrons, who have only been able to come in via appointments since September and use a “curbside pickup” option since May.
“We will continue our pick-up table downstairs because a lot of people seem to really enjoy it,” Blando said, noting that like many other businesses they have realized a curbside service would be a good idea to carry into the future long after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. “But this week has been fun.”
In the last year, Blando said the true impact a library has on its community has been highlighted more than ever before. Between the guests who come with tears in their eyes as they thank library staff for their materials and the large turnouts to the outdoor children’s story walks last summer, Blando said the library is clearly appreciated in the hearts and lives of their patrons.
“When you think of essential services, of course you think of things like fire, police, wastewater, but the library is very essential to so many people,” Blando said. “We have had many people tell us that we helped them keep their sanity throughout this year – that really makes you realize how important of a role the library plays.”
Though it is still unknown when the library will be back to its regular hours of operation, Blando said the vaccine rates are leaving him feeling optimistic and hoping for the library to be wide open come June.
“This summer is probably going to look like a hybrid of last year and then pre-COVID years,” Blando said, adding that the staff will try to use good weather days to their fullest during the warm months. “I think next summer is when we will really see things go back to normal for the library.”
With the express hours, Blando said they are still keeping up with new COVID-19 regulations that have been implemented, including requiring face masks and quarantining returned materials. Users need not fear a lack of choices, however, as Blando said they never slowed down on receiving new books throughout the pandemic.
“Just because we were closed down doesn’t mean the work stopped,” Blando said. “We are at the same level as we always were with getting and processing new things. There is plenty for everyone here at the library.”