Dover Public Library set to reopen Nov. 3

DOVER — The Dover Public Library, with the exception of offering curbside service to patrons, has sat mostly dormant since it was closed to the public on March 14 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, it appears as if the library’s plan to reopen on Nov. 3 with limited hours and services will march forward after Dover’s Parks, Recreation and Community Enhancement Committee approved the modified opening in a 7-3 vote at a Council Committee of the Whole meeting last week.

Councilman Fred Neil also introduced an amendment to the original motion, which recommended library staff research the possibility of taking people’s temperatures and getting their names for possible contact tracing purposes as they enter the facility. The amendment passed with a 6-3 vote, with one member absent and another abstaining in the meeting that was conducted virtually.

Matt Harline, Dover’s assistant city manager, said the city is considering adding another security officer from Sunstates Security to facilitate the proposed changes. It all comes down to if the city can pay for it.

“To provide this (library) service to the citizens of Dover, there’s no 100 percent risk-free process. But we are going to be cleaning surfaces and working hard to enforce the mask requirement very stringently,” Mr. Harline said.

“I think it’s especially important now to make sure that the people in there are there to use the library. Because with everybody that comes in, you increase the risk even if it’s just a very small amount of spreading this virus, or the flu, or anything else.

“We need people to be in there for the purpose of using the resources of the library.”

Under Gov. John Carney’s Phase 2 rules for reopening, the Dover Public Library would be open at 60% occupancy, which brought concerns from some committee members that homeless people – looking to get in out of the cold weather – could fill much of the capacity, which may leave students, most attending classes remotely, without access to computers, internet and resources.

That’s one of the reasons that Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. voted against the reopening plan.

“It’s not the right time,” Councilman Sudler said. “I think until we have a form of vaccine or close to it, I think the library is too much of a hot spot. I think that it could be the host of a major outbreak in downtown Dover because of the element of individuals that are attracted there and that do things that are not supposed to happen. I just believe that it is not the right time.”

Mr. Harline said that while no plan is risk-free, he believes Library Director Brian Sylvester and his staff have done just about as much as they can to minimize the risks of COVID-19 exposure to visitors to the facility.

“What we have is what I would call a pilot program to reopen the library at 20 hours a week, where previously we were at 66 hours for a regular week before this,” said Mr. Harline. “We’ve tried to address the safety issues that we missed in previous versions.”

He suggested leaving bathroom doors open to lessen the chance of people touching surface areas and are working on lessening the number of warnings that security guards need to give before removing individuals from the library for eating or sleeping. The new policies also prohibit large bags inside the building.

Council President William Hare, like Mr. Sudler, had several concerns about reopening the library. Appointments will not be required to enter the facility.

“Is somebody taking temperatures when people come in?” he asked. “How do you know I’m not positive? How do you know when I go into the library I don’t just take my backpack and sit down and sleep in one of the chairs, because you know what happens.

“I just don’t want the staff to be exposed because it can be dangerous for people.”

Mr. Sylvester responded, “The short answer is we don’t … We have no way of knowing whether or not somebody is positive and asymptomatic.”

He did add that the guidelines the library is following for reopening come from several different sources.

“We looked at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines, Governor Carney’s Phase 2 orders, and this industry’s specific orders for arts and culture, museums, galleries and historical attractions,” he said. “There were some additional items that the Delaware Division of Libraries had in addition to those requirements.

“All in-person programming in the library has been suspended at least until March. We will be revisiting that decision in January and February just to see if we want to extend that or we want to loosen that restriction.”

Mr. Sylvester said Sunstates Security will work with library staff to not only enforce safety policies, but public health protocols like mask wearing and social distancing.

The majority of those on the committee approved the reopening plan and are hoping for strong enforcement of health protocols and safety.

Councilman Matt Lindell said staff should shut the building down immediately if they discover any type of risk to public health.

“At some point we do have to move forward. However, I would be uncomfortable if the enforcement was weak,” he said.

Mr. Harline agree.

“I would have no hesitation (to close the library) if we saw there was a real risk to public health,” he said.

Mr. Sylvester said there are seven signs reminding people of the COVID-19 safety precautions located throughout the library and other changes have been made prior to the reopening, such as having everyone enter and exit the facility through the doors that face the parking lot, while the doors facing Loockerman Street will serve as an emergency exit only.

The library will remain closed on Sunday and Monday and will be open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and on Wednesday and Friday from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. Curbside pickup will end Nov. 2, but it will remain available on a very limited basis when the library is closed, so people who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 can still pick up materials.

Mr. Sylvester said he can’t wait to see the library reopen its doors, since he was hired as the director of the library during its closure. Mr. Sylvester had a nearly decade-long tenure as director of the Rochester Public Library before taking this job.

One thing is for certain: Mr. Sylvester knew Dover was where he wanted to be when he first laid eyes on the expansive library building.

“I think the main thing at first was, it’s such a nice facility,” he said. “It’s a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building for starters, and that’s something that’s appealing to me, and the rooftop garden is gorgeous. I’m really looking forward to seeing that in bloom next spring.

“It’s fantastic. I love it. Compared to the Rochester library, it’s significantly bigger, the campus is larger, the grounds are bigger, and it’s great that you have the space to spread out in. The children’s room has its own area, and the teens have their own area, and it’s really fantastic. It’s a place where we can do a lot of new things.”

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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