Almost back in action

Pacifica’s public libraries will soon be opening to limited, in-person use. The county’s library system has been working on a plan with individual cities, which typically own the buildings. Adam Pardee / Tribune

San Mateo County libraries are set to reopen in mid- to late-April, allowing for some in-person browsing while maintaining curbside services.

Director of Library Services Anne-Marie Despain said the library system’s governing board has approved a reopening plan, but does not have a definitive date for when the Pacifica Sharp Park and Pacifica Sanchez libraries will resume in-person services. Despain said reopening details, including hours of operation, will be announced in a coming press release after discussions with individual cities that own library buildings.

Local libraries were allowed to reopen for in-person services after the county moved into the less restrictive “orange tier” last week. Despain said the county libraries will transition to a hybrid opening model, requiring masks, social distancing and capacity limits for in-person browsing while continuing curbside pickup. No in-person library programs will be scheduled and no gatherings will be allowed to start for the time being.

“We won’t be back to normal hours for some time, but we will have this hybrid approach,” Despain said.

One priority for the coming year, Despain said, is to support The Big Lift literacy program alongside local public schools. Depending on staffing and other resources, local libraries are working to finalize just how many students they can serve at each site. Despain said the library system also hopes to play a role in helping residents get access to COVID-19 vaccine appointments. She hopes that by summer they’ll be able to expand their services.

“Eventually, the idea is, as it's safe and allowable, we want to increase in-person hours,” Despain said.

Library use has been lower than normal over the last year after libraries were forced to close to in-person browsing and events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Despain said. The libraries rolled out a reservation and curbside pickup system in June, while events were canceled or moved online. Libraries later shifted to offer walkup checkout options.

Despain said her goal is for county libraries to continue to offer flexible services for people who might not be comfortable coming in person or for those who prefer curbside options out of convenience. Although not a prerequisite for opening, she said most library staff are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines due to their roles as educators.

Efforts to offer curbside pickup were already in the works before the pandemic, and library virtual programming has been largely successful. Still, Depain said she’s heard from staff and residents who are eager to get back in person.

“People miss our spaces,” Despain said. “We are a community gathering spot. That will come back.”

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