Bookworms, you can crawl out of your hidey-holes and head to Teton County Library to browse the shelves.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the library building has been closed to the public, though it has maintained services through online offerings and curbside pickup. Even with access to nearly everything through those resources, nothing quite replaces spending time walking the aisles with enough time to carefully consider your next book (or five).

As of Monday, that option is available again, though with considerable restrictions. In days of yore, anyone could wander in, grab a book, pull up a chair and read. Under the reopening plan, patrons have to sign up for a slot under the “Browse, Borrow and Boogie” program.

“No one in this room expects the library to function in the same manner as it did before the pandemic,” library board member Nina Lenz said at the Aug. 20 board meeting.

Originally the library wasn’t going to reopen to the public until the Teton County Health Department deemed the county had reached a “low-risk” phase. However, it may be a while until that happens, so staff took many of the elements from that plan and created the “moderate-risk” plan.

People can sign up for 45-minute slots to come in and use computers and check out materials. In the main wing, 25 patrons will be allowed for each time slot, and 10 will be allowed in the youth wing. The slots start on the hour, so library staff will have time between each to do some light cleaning and sanitation.

A security guard at the front door will monitor people, making sure they have signed up for a slot and are wearing a mask, a stipulation of the reopening plan. The greeter won’t be a library employee. Instead, a contractor has been hired so that library staff don’t need to police patrons.

“It’s going to be a pretty heavy burden, I think, on staff to be able to safely manage this,” former Assistant Library Director Isabel Zumel told the board at its July 16 meeting.

Over the past couple of months, the board discussed whether the greeter was necessary. Lenz, a relatively new appointee, asked whether the board could approve a new hire and a new position on such short notice, but Zumel told her since the greeter is a contractor, the position isn’t technically filled by a library employee.

In describing the position to board members, Library Director Oscar Gittemeier, who just took the post in July, said he read in the local news that Police Chief Todd Smith (who has since retired) was encouraging businesses and other entities to hire security guards to help them manage pandemic policies.

“That was really helpful just as someone new to the community to know that law enforcement is in support of this, they recommend it, they’re encouraging the community to do it,” Gittemeier said.

Ultimately, the board approved the contract for the greeter, paving the way for the building to reopen. To accommodate community members who are not comfortable coming into the building, the curbside pickup program will remain in effect.

With the building open, library staff are one step closer to returning to semi-normal practices. Reactions to that situation are a mixed bag: Some patrons have sent public comment to the board saying they feel reopening is unnecessary because the curbside pickup system is so effective.

Other public commenters maintain that the physical library provides essential services to the community, and that they feel they aren’t able to enjoy the library their tax dollars pay for without the building being open. Teton County Commissioner Mark Barron indicated at the commissioners’ Aug. 4 meeting that he agreed with them.

Barron wanted to know why the library was closed for four months following the outbreak when other businesses had reopened. Gittemeier pushed back on that idea, saying that with curbside pickup, the library was still reaching the community.

“If we were to describe a restaurant that’s doing takeout we wouldn’t describe them as closed,” Gittemeier said. “So it seems odd to describe the library as closed when we’re providing services seven days a week.”

Barron wasn’t entirely convinced.

“I’m having a hard time swallowing that you’re providing services, seven days a week to a community that can’t go in and access a library,” he said. “There are kids in this community that need a library, adults in this community who need a library.”

Three weeks out from that meeting, the library is open. Should the COVID-19 situation improve countywide in the coming weeks or months, the library could move to its “low-risk” plan.

Either way, bookworms can now make a reservation to browse, borrow and boogie.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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