Great Falls Library to begin curbside service May 4, plans to reopen slowly to public

The Great Falls Public Library will resume curbside service on May 4 and the book return has reopened so patrons can begin returning items.

If patrons can’t return items, staff can renew them and the library is not charging late fees during the COVID-19 crisis.

The library is starting with curbside service as staff plans for a slow reopening of the very public building.

March 20 COVID-19 updates: Library offering curbside pickup; Malmstrom AFB raises health protection level; Cascade County declares emergency; county jail still accepting offenders; Bullock orders closures of dine-in food and beverage businesses; Showdown closing; GFPS food drive today at Bison Ford; Great Falls Rescue Mission adjusting operations

During their April 28 meeting, the library board unanimously approved a phased reopening plan proposed by Library Director Susie McIntyre.

Under the governor’s phased reopening plan, the library could reopen to the public, but McIntyre, library and the board have a number of concerns about being able to protect health and safety of staff and patrons if they open too quickly.

“I don’t believe we’re ready to be open to the public,” McIntyre told the board during the April 28 meeting. “We are not capable of opening up to the public this week. It breaks my heart because I know we are one of the very few places that provide computers and internet.”

Library closing doors to public due to COVID-19, phone and online services still available

The library has boosted its wifi so the public can access it outside the building, but it’s not helpful if they don’t have devices and doing things like applying for jobs on a phone can be challenging, McIntyre said.

The library had offered curbside service for about a week while the library was closed to the public before Gov. Steve Bullock issued the stay home directive.

During the stay home order, all staff was working remotely except for custodial and McIntyre said she began bringing some staff into the building on Sunday. They’re creating staggered work schedules to limit the number of staff in the building and requiring that staff wear masks in share spaces. Staff also conducts a health screening at the beginning of each shift, she said.

City officials are currently discussing plans for what reopening city offices to the public looks like and the conditions of bringing employees back to work on site such as health screenings, wearing masks and taking temperatures, she said.

Public Works staff will be at the library on Wednesday talking to library staff about installing plexiglass at the public desks as a protective measure.

McIntyre is working with the Cascade County City-County Health Department on the plans for reopening the building to the library to provide as many health precautions as possible.

She said that once they are able to open their doors to the public it will be for browsing and checking out materials not hanging out and most of their programming will be canceled or done online since gathering in large groups is still not doable.

Once they’re open to the public, the library may limit operating hours since its down staff as some are considered in the vulnerable populations for COVID-19 and are working remotely, or are taking care of children since schools are also closed and recent legislation allows for that, she said.

The state requires library to meet certain levels of operating hours to get state funding, but McIntyre said there’s discussion of relaxing those requirements as long as COVID-19 is a factor.

McIntyre said there are conflicting demands on the library in that it’s an essential service and provides critical services to many, but the top priority is to protect the heath and safety of staff, patrons and the community.

“The thought of not having access to books makes me anxious,” she said. “This is tough, there’s no right answer, we’re going to muddle our way through trying to serve the public and stay safe.”

McIntyre told The Electric that staff will move to opening to the library to the public in the coming weeks as long as Cascade County doesn’t see the signs of community spread of the virus.