Libraries are open, but with safety measures

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Regan Zehr, 10, of Bretzville, browses the shelves for books at the Ferdinand Branch Library on Tuesday. Regan said she often goes to the library to pass time and read while her mother exercises at the Tri-County YMCA.


When local libraries reopened in June, they did so with a host of new safety precautions geared toward slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Both the Jasper-Dubois County Public Library — which includes the Birdseye, Dubois, Ferdinand and Jasper branches — and the Huntingburg Public Library reopened in phases, beginning with curbside services and technology usage appointments in May. Now, both library systems are open to the public again, but a visit to the library looks a little different now.

Visitors to any of the JDCPL branches are required to wear facial coverings while inside and are asked to maintain social distancing. Library Director Christine Golden said patrons overall have been cooperative with the requirements. A few were reluctant to wear a facial covering, she said, but no one refused to come to the library because of the procedure.

“That is a big deal in my mind,” Golden said.

Other safety measures include frequent cleaning and disinfecting of all surfaces, as well as quarantining returned items for 72 hours before returning them to shelves. The practices are based on a study from the REALM Project that looked at how long COVID-19 survives on surfaces found in libraries. REALM stands for Reopening Archives Libraries and Museums.

Ferdinand Branch Library Page Fiona Vonderheide shelves books at the library on Tuesday.

The Huntingburg Public Library is following similar precautionary measures, according to its website. Library staff could not be reached for comment by press time.

Although the libraries are open, Golden said the branches are seeing fewer patrons than usual. She figures that’s in part to the lack of on-site programming. Although the JDCPL branches are open to the public for the check out of materials and computer use, librarians have not restarted in-person programming. Instead, the staff is organizing virtual and to-go programs, such as weekly story times posted to the library’s Facebook pages and grab-and-go crafts. Earlier this week, the Ferdinand Branch launched a story walk at 18th Street Park in Ferdinand that includes a grab-and-go craft.

“It gets people outside and brings the community together while promoting literacy,” said Jenna Steltenpohl, the youth services librarian at the Ferdinand Branch.

The StoryWalk Project was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vermont, and developed in collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. To create a story walk, librarians print out pages of a picture book, attach them to yard signs and line a path with the pages. Participants then walk the path to read the book.

For Ferdinand’s story walk, Steltenpohl chose “Dog in Boots” by Greg Gormley. The story follows a dog who reads the story “Puss in Boots” and sets out to find his own pair of boots. Participants will find the first page of “Dog in Boots” near the playground at 18th Street Park. The walk ends near the library where patrons can come inside to pick up a grab-and-go craft that will have kids decorating their own pair of cardstock shoes.

Steltenpohl said she’s glad to be able to offer programs like the story walk to patrons, but she’s eager to be able to offer in-person programs again.

“I miss the interaction with the patrons,” she said.

Pages of the children's book, "Dog in Boots," are posted for the Ferdinand Branch Library's story walk along the path at 18th Street Park in Ferdinand on Tuesday.

She isn’t the only one missing seeing patrons. Golden said she’s hearing from many of her staff members that they miss having the bustling libraries they’ve come to know during the summer. Although it’s sad, Golden said she understands people wanting to stay home as much as possible. Keeping the community safe right now is a priority, she said, and it’s part of the reason JDCPL hasn’t returned to in-person programming. Weekend hours are also still shorter than normal.

“We’re doing everything we can to protect our patrons and our staff,” Golden said.

That said, if someone needs to use the library’s services, Golden doesn’t want them to feel unsafe. The libraries are continuing to offer curbside service for those who prefer it, and COVID-19 safety precautions will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

“We are 100% open,” she said. “We’re here, and we’re happy to have anybody come in.”

More on