Coronavirus: Libraries to open with a new approach to book borrowing

Libraries across Northern Ireland will reopen with a new book and collect service.Image copyright

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A Book and Collect service will be available in 90 libraries from 20 July with contactless collection

Libraries across Northern Ireland are preparing to reopen as part of a pilot scheme launched by Libraries NI.

Customers will be able to borrow books from 20 July with new operational measures put in place for their safety.

All libraries in Northern Ireland closed on 20 March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s everything you need to know about returning to your local library and the new normal approach to book borrowing.

How do you borrow a book?

A new Book and Collect service will be provided to customers in 90 libraries from Monday 20 July.

Customers can phone their local library to request a selection of books and arrange contactless collection.

Each library will have their own contactless collection measures in place and some will have staff at the front door for book collections and drop-offs.

This will be an interim service which will remain in place until each library fully reopens.

Some libraries will have a self-service machine for customers to check out books.

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Five libraries will reopen fully

Which libraries will reopen and when?

A list of the 90 libraries offering the Book and Collect service from 20 July can be found on the Libraries NI website.

Five libraries will fully reopen for book browsing and limited IT access in July.

Omagh library and Lisburn City library will reopen on 21 July and Bangor Carnegie, Derry Central and Belfast Central will reopen on 23 July.

These five libraries are the first phase of a larger pilot to test the new approach to service delivery to facilitate the reopening of other local libraries.

Are all the services available?

IT services will only be available in the five libraries opening in the pilot scheme initially.

Computer use will adhere to social distancing and help-sheets and telephone support will be provided to customers who need it.

Customers will be asked to limit themselves to 30-minutes computer use.

Printing or photocopying will be unavailable and toilet facilities will be closed during the pilot phase.

A range of online services are available on the Libraries NI website including free access to e-books, e-magazines and more than 3,000 free newspapers.

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Protective screens will be installed at customer desks and staff will be equipped with PPE

Can you still browse in a library?

Initially customers will only be able to browse the shelves in the five libraries reopening in the first phase of the pilot scheme.

All other library members can browse through an online catalogue and telephone their local library to reserve books.

There will be controls on the number of people allowed in libraries at any one time to adhere to social-distancing measures.

Customers will be asked to limit themselves to 30-minutes browsing time.

What happens when you return a book?

When a customer returns a book it will be stored for a period of time in each library before being returned to the shelves.

Books will be placed on a trolley and taken to a separate room where they will be laid out for 72 hours before being put back on display.

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Customers will be limited to 30-minutes browsing time and computer use

What’s the scientific advice on handling books?

The government advice on the risk of infection on hard surfaces also applies to books.

Government guidance states that the risk of infection from coronavirus on a surface is likely to be “reduced significantly” after a three-day period.

Libraries NI said staff would be equipped with relevant personal protective equipment (PPE), screens will be installed at customer desks, hand sanitiser will be available for all customers entering the library and a high level of cleaning will take place throughout each of the libraries.

In preparation for reopening, Libraries NI has asked customers to return books they loaned before lockdown so they can be safely stored, with collection times available on their website.

‘Some anxiety’

Libraries NI had 15,000 new members over the lockdown period and saw a surge in demand for e-books, audio books and e-magazines.

When libraries closed in March, customers were allowed to take out up to twice the usual amount of books.

Julie Reid, deputy head of service at Libraries NI, has been visiting local branches who are preparing to reopen.

“It’s been lovely to see customers returning their books and expressing how happy they are to see the staff back,” she said.

“Libraries are for everybody, our members range from babies to senior citizens and everyone can benefit from accessing their local library.

“Whether it’s children who are starting to read and develop their language skills right through to someone who just calls in for a chat and a quick browse.”

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She added libraries were a lifeline for members of the community who did not have access to the internet at home.

“Whether it’s for information services, online banking or simply keeping in touch with friends and family via email or on other online platforms, it really is a lifeline for some.

“I can understand that people may have some anxiety about coming back into a public space and we have put the safety of our customers and staff at the top of our list.

“There’s so many measures that are in place, from hand sanitiser as you come into the library, screens, social-distancing marking and all of that advice is there to keep everybody safe.

“Our staff are really looking forward to getting their customers back.”

BBC News