Councilmen want to review plans before reopening Dover Public Library

DOVER — Dover Public Library director Brian Sylvester laid out a plan Tuesday night to create a temporary computer lab at the facility later this month, before a partial reopening of the library Oct. 26.

However, after the proposal was given at the city’s Council Committee of the Whole meeting, members of the Parks, Recreation and Community Enhancement Committee said not so fast — not until they get a chance to more closely review the library’s plans to keep its patrons safe amid the COVID-19 crisis.

So committee members voted to hold back on the plans to reopen the library until it could conduct further studies into procedures and protocols, especially involving cleaning and social distancing issues.

“We’re looking at a partial-capacity reopening of the library on Oct. 26,” Mr. Sylvester told committee members at the meeting. “We originally picked that date to coincide with the resumption of hybrid learning at the Capital School District.

“I’d like to propose in the meantime (starting Sept. 28), opening a temporary computer lab in meeting rooms A and B, which are on the first floor of the library. The reason I picked that as a location is because we can lower the security gate that’s in the middle of the lobby and lock off patron access to the rest of the library, but still offer access to that space.”

Mr. Sylvester added that the library could potentially put 12 to 15 computers in the meeting rooms, which can be divided by a wall, depending on the amount of network outlets that are available. The dividing wall would be in addition to social distancing of the computer stations.

Councilman Scott Cole, who is also a UniServ director for the Delaware State Education Association, was the first to say he wanted to see more information before the library could move forward with its reopening plan.

“I have a bunch of issues here,” Councilman Cole said. “In my state job, I’m dealing with 10 different school districts that (are) dealing with all the governor’s policies and (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and (the Delaware Division of Public Health) and all that kind of stuff.

“While I agree that I would like to see the library offering some type of services, whether it’s the passport or book (curbside) pickup and things like that, as far as approving anything or moving forward on anything, I would like to see a structured plan that meets CDC, DPH guidelines — safety for all. Just something structured and very concrete before moving forward. As far as the library (reopening), we need to look at some very structured policies.”

He added, “That doesn’t mean that I want to keep it shut down, but at the same time, we need to have a very clear vision and a very clear process moving forward.”

Mr. Sylvester responded that the Delaware Division of Libraries has put out statewide guidelines for reopening facilities during the pandemic but added that there is very little detail in those regulations due to the various sizes and designs of libraries throughout the state, making it mostly a “one size fits all” approach.

“We can certainly use (the guidelines) as a stepping-off point for a more detailed plan, if that’s the direction council would like to take,” the library director said.

It turned out that the more detailed plan was the one that the committee voted for and moved to review at a future meeting, which was fine with Mr. Sylvester.

“None of them (library reopening plans) have been written guidelines, but lately, we’ve been told that libraries should reopen when the governor moves us to Phase 3,” he said.

Plans for reopening
The Dover Public Library closed to the public March 14 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The closing was, in part, due to concern for public health, but there were also public safety issues.

In the six months since the library closed, numerous physical renovations and policy changes have been implemented to clean the library to reduce the chance of spreading disease and to improve the safety of its patrons.

While the inside of the library has been closed to the public since mid-March, the staff has remained busy at the facility.

They implemented a curbside service that provides access to the library’s collection and shifted their programming for children, teens and adults to a virtual format. But they have been unable to provide access to computers for residents without internet access in their homes.

Mr. Sylvester said that to address that gap, the library was proposing a temporary computer lab that would open Sept. 28 and be available from Tuesday through Friday from 1-3 p.m. By appointment, patrons could visit to use the computers and print for one hour per day.

During the same times, the Passport Center would be open by appointment. To adequately staff the computer lab, appointments would not be offered during curbside service.

Mr. Sylvester also recommended a partial opening Oct. 26 to coincide with the resumption of hybrid schooling in the Capital School District. The library would be available at a reduced capacity from Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Public meeting rooms would be unavailable due to their current use as quarantine space for returned library materials. After the need for quarantining books is over, meeting rooms would be offered at 60% capacity.

Difference of opinions
There were some members of the committee that had differing opinions and arguments for reopening the library, or keeping it closed, particularly Councilmen Matt Lindell and David Anderson.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions as far as this is concerned, and I still have an issue, just as a matter of principle, reopening something as large as the library, even though I definitely know the benefits of doing so, but we’re (City Council) still sitting here in front of our (computer) screens,” Councilman Lindell said. “I won’t vote to reopen the library until we’re actually in (City Council) chambers in person.

“If we can’t meet as a body somewhere in a public setting, then I can’t vote to reopen the library.”

Councilman Anderson said the two things, having in-person council meetings open to the public and reopening the library, could not be compared.

“People are being crushed economically and socially by not being able to have access because of (technological) divide,” he said. “The more that is taken away, the more that it harms people.

“When everything else is opened, even our senior centers, our athletic fields, our recreation department, our schools are going hybrid, there’s no reason that a 50,000-square-foot public library can’t open two rooms for a dozen people (for a computer lab). That’s sort of absurd in my opinion.”

Councilman Lindell responded: “The absurd thing is trying to open the library without a definitive (plan), such as when are we going to clean? Are we going to close it certain days so that we can deep clean? Are we going to (clean) the bathrooms every 15 or 20 minutes? … There’s a lot of things that need to be looked at given the situation.”

Councilman Ralph Taylor said that besides COVID-19, there are still other issues that concern him.

“My concern is if we open at this particular point, we go back to where we were,” said Councilman Taylor. “We go back to where people can’t go into the library and be comfortable and sit down at the computer, because our homeless population is going to use it again as a rest area, and I’m concerned with that.”

Mr. Sylvester told Councilman Taylor that many of the renovations that were completed during the closure were done for security concerns. The library now has 13 exterior cameras and 19 interior cameras on all three floors.

“All of these steps were taken clearly with the goal of improving safety,” he said. “If there are more changes that council would like us to make, I’d be more than happy to bring people in and see what we’ve done and give us recommendations and tell us further steps you would like us to take.”

Councilman Cole, before making a motion to defer the library reopening plan until the committee receives more information, took Mr. Sylvester up on his offer.

“I think everybody’s made some good points but, overall, I think we’re all in the same boat, we want to see this move forward,” he said. “If (the library) can be opened in a structured, safe manner, then you will have the support of this council. If you can provide the clear vision of safety and cleaning and guidelines, I think you’d have my vote to get the service back up and running.

“A clear vision of safety and protocols will get you the support where you need it to be. If we can revisit this and (Mr. Sylvester) can provide us with that, I think you will have our support.”


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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