New director takes over at Dover Public Library

New Dover Public Library director Brian Sylvester is looking forward to guiding the library to a reopening after five months due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Brian Sylvester began his job as the new director of the Dover Public Library on July 20, two weeks before Tropical Storm Isaias wreaked havoc and spawned tornadoes on the city and its surrounding areas.

He wasn’t sure what exactly he had gotten himself into, after overseeing the Rochester Public Library in New Hampshire for eight years.

However, things have settled down now for the most part, though Mr. Sylvester and his library staff are still busy putting together a plan to reopen the Dover Public Library amid the coronavirus pandemic, sometime in September — hopefully.

“I like it,” Mr. Sylvester said about his recent experiences in Dover. “I’ve enjoyed it, other than the crazy weather. I asked a couple of people, ‘Is this normal?’ and they said, ‘Oh, no, it’s unusual.’

“Delaware’s a little bit smaller than I thought. I don’t know why I had it in my head that it’s about the same size as New Hampshire, because it’s definitely not, but Dover’s a good town. … I like it.”

The Dover Public Library closed March 14 at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. The closure was in part due to concern for public health, but there were also public safety concerns. Dover had been set to reopen the library in early August, but city officials decided to move it back.

“There’s been nothing confirmed (about a reopening date), but City Council’s committee on parks and rec and community enhancement is meeting on Sept. 15, and that’s when we’re going to be talking about reopening plans, hopefully,” said Mr. Sylvester. “At the end of my first week, (the city) kind of changed their mind on that (August reopening), but it’s better to wait and be safe.”

He understands the city’s concern with protecting its residents.

“It really just boiled down to safety. They just wanted to make sure that we weren’t being premature with reopening. Since that happened, the schools have pushed to going to just virtual, so I think it was the right decision.”

Mr. Sylvester, along with new assistant library director Megan Johnson, are trying to adjust with the times, so the library can reach its potential. They started their new jobs simultaneously.

“It’s been really helpful,” Mr. Sylvester said. “We both bring fresh eyes to everything, but we still have the benefit of all the staff that’s been here a long time, so it’s been a really good partnership.

“Last week, we took a road trip out to the Seaford library. I think it’s one of only two in the state of Delaware that’s open to the public, so we got a chance to go on-site there and see what they’re doing, see what’s working and what’s not working.”

Mr. Sylvester said that he doesn’t believe that the public needs to be overly concerned about catching COVID-19 through reading books.

“We’ve seen some of the science that’s showing that (with) newsprint and paper, (people are) relatively low risk handling those, but plastics or DVDs and things like that, those are the things you want to be a little more careful with,” he said.

He said library staff quarantines all returned items for three days, which is more than enough time for any potential virus to disappear.

Mr. Sylvester gained quite a reputation in his nearly decade-long tenure as director of the Rochester Public Library.

On its Facebook page July 8, the Rochester library posted: “Library director Brian Sylvester is leaving the RPL for a new opportunity in Delaware. Thank you for everything you did for the library and the city of Rochester. Dover, Delaware, is lucky to have you!”

In a reply to the post, Anne Cackley May wrote: “Brian, I will really miss your presence and friendship at the library. Dover, Delaware, is very lucky to be getting you!”

Mr. Sylvester made many improvements as library director in Rochester.

During his tenure, the Rochester facility became the first in New Hampshire to implement a Radio Frequency Identification system that allows staff to check out a stack of books in a single transaction and prevents the loss of items. Also under his direction, the library gained national attention in 2018 when a collection of authentic propaganda posters from both World Wars was discovered in storage.

Mr. Sylvester was also quick to implement new technologies that have helped make children and young adults become more engaged with the library, including kid-friendly computer stations and a variety of digital resources — including a new website — that helped patrons remain connected with the library throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The director is still trying to get acclimated into his new environment, but he is bringing similar philosophies to Dover.

“We’ve been looking a little bit at the children’s room, about what kind of services we can offer that will help, with all the schools going virtual or doing hybrid,” he said. “We want to see how we can support that, but it’s all pretty preliminary right now.”

A different look for a different time
Patricia Crosby, interim director of the Dover Public Library, helped to implement many of the precautions and protections that have been put into place at the facility in the five months since it closed.

Library employees and city staff have conducted a deep cleaning of the library and the entire front area has been rearranged with a reduction in clutter.

Upon the library’s reopening, social distancing will be required, as well as face masks. Waiting lines in front of circulation, public service desks and public printers have been marked at 6-foot intervals. New signs were created for physical distancing, hygiene, etc. Half the computer terminals have been disabled, and Plexiglas shields will be in use at circulation and public service desks.

Enforcement against sleeping and eating will also be enforced and, of the computers that remain in service, library staff will be instituting a 60-minute limit per session and 90 minutes per day.

In the name of public safety, additional electronic Pro-Watch access panels have been added to the library’s bathrooms to allow staff and security guards to quickly gain entry into the restrooms in emergency situations.

More indoor cameras and monitors have been installed by Advantech, allowing security and the library director to view the interior and exterior cameras live or search recorded information. Over the next month, the feed should be directly available to the Dover Police Department. Advantech also completed a seamless 360-degree view of the library exterior.

Several secluded areas, originally designed to provide patrons with quiet and privacy, have been sealed up to become closets or private study rooms, requiring a key from the circulation desk.

Ms. Crosby came on as the library’s interim director at the end of January and helped oversee many of the changes, such as virtual programming, during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I did want to say that for a job, it has been a pleasure and an honor working in Dover,” Ms. Crosby said. “The staff here has been fantastic, and working with all the other department heads has been great. … There have been a lot of people involved in the process of the whole COVID process and the whole getting the library ready for some of the other renovations.”

Ready for a new challenge
Now, the ball is in Mr. Sylvester and Ms. Johnson’s court, and they say they are ready to run with it.

The new director believes the biggest challenge the Dover Public Library faces is finding a way to allow the public access to its computers to handle vital personal tasks.

“The thing I struggle with the most is that a lot of our traditional services we could shift to virtually,” Mr. Sylvester said. “Our story time program, for example, you could just do that by video. If you want to get books out to the public, you can do that by curbside, and it’s just like restaurant takeout.

“But offering computer access, there’s really no way to do that other than to let somebody in the building. That’s been the struggle, is figuring out how to do that. Computers allow people to apply for a job, do their taxes, and even just having access to a printer, … you want to print a bus pass or something? A lot of people don’t have (printers) in their house anymore. It’s easier to just stop here.”

The Dover Public Library has been churning along throughout the pandemic, just in different ways. It offers curbside service where people can check out books five days a week, Tuesdays through Saturdays. It also reopened the Passport Center for a couple of hours a day by appointment just last week.

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.”