The Hillsboro library is open again—sort of.

You can’t browse the shelves, work at a desk, or even enter the building. What you can do is borrow books.

For the first time since March you can browse the library catalogue, place a hold, and pick things up at the Brookwood or Shute Park library.

“It will be very different,” Hilary Ostlund, Library Manager for the City of Hillsboro, told me over Zoom. “You’ll need to get an appointment and you’ll need to wait in line outside.”

That’s right: you can’t just show up. You’ll need an appointment. You’ll get an email when your books are ready for pick up, at which point you can reserve a time to grab your books between 2PM and 6PM, Monday through Saturday.

“We can do 40-60 people an hour, that’s the estimate,” said Ostlund. “When you come, your stuff is ready in a bag and it’s given to you.”

You will have to wait outside. You’re expected to wear a mask. There will be dots on the sidewalk, six feet apart, to help with physical distancing.

But you can get books again—and that’s something.

“If you show up without an appointment we’ll do our best to help you,” said Ostlund, “but the best might be giving you a handout explaining how it works.”

As different as this will be for you, it’s really different for staff.

“This is not the library that we left on March 14th,” said Ostlund. “In the past people came into the library and got to do what they go to do. Now every single interaction is also a transaction, because we have to do all the handling of materials for you for safety.”

It’s going to require some flexibility from the staff, but Ostlund says recent changes in the way libraries are run here make this transition easier.

“We’ve already trained our employees over the past few years to be flexible,” said Ostlund. “I’m really thankful that we started to disrupt that. I had no idea it would help us during a pandemic.”

Processing will take a little longer than usual.

“We’re quarantining all material that comes in for 72 hours,” said Ostlund. “Our staff will not interact with the material—it all goes to a special room, the quarantine room. After 72 hours we are pushing them through our automated materials handler.”

Karen Muller, Assistant Director for library operations, told me this is all about taking precautions seriously.

“Safety is number one,” said Muller. “We want to do this slowly and consciously, following all the guidelines from the city and the state.”

There’s no timeline for opening the building. “We need Washington County to get to phase two,” said Ostlund.

Programs, including story times, will continue online. Some programs, particularly the Spanish-language ones, have found a global audience—library staff told me that people from 64 countries have watched Hillsboro library programming online during the pandemic, and that actress Jennifer Garner retweeted one of their story times.

It’s not the job librarians signed up for, but they’re making the best of it. And now they can lend out books again. It’s a small thing, but it feels huge. I plan on taking advantage.

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