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Howard County libraries begin contactless pickup as part of reopening process

The Howard County Library System moved to the next step in its reopening process this week by starting contactless pickup amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Residents can place books and other items on hold online or over the phone and get notified when the materials are ready for pickup. When customers arrive at one of the library system’s six locations, the books will be in a bag waiting for them in the lobby, and no contact with the library staff or other customers should occur. This change started Monday.

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“Safety is paramount for our staff and customers. Contactless pickup is the safest way for us to open at this time,” said Christie Lassen, the library system’s director of communications and partnerships. “We’re also watching places around the country that are following the protocols from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], and we want to follow those protocols to ensure the safety of our staff and customers.”

The contactless pickup method is the start of “phase three” in the library system’s reopening process, which also includes staff returning to the library and the reopening of book drops. During this phase, customers aren’t allowed into the libraries.

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To prepare for contactless pickup, library staff members have cleaned returned books from the libraries’ book drop rooms, which were overloaded after the branches closed on March 16. Staff also received personal protective equipment to wear while in the buildings and are transitioning to four-hour shifts to limit time in the branches.

Lassen said all items retrieved from the book drops and returned during contactless pickup will be quarantined for 72 hours.

“There are so many different considerations for this. It isn’t as simple as just putting some books out,” Lassen said. “We’ve had to do a lot of planning, and we’ve been closely following studies about how long the virus can live on hard surfaces. That’s why we decided to do the 72-hour quarantine.”

Customers can place items on hold online through their library card account or call their library system branch between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, Lassen said

The branch will then notify customers that the items are available for pickup through whichever method is selected in their online account — phone call, email or text — and customers can fill out an online form or call to schedule a time to pick the items up. The bag with the materials affixed with the customer’s name will be on the table just inside the main entrance..

The next phase would feature the reopening of the library branches to the public with possible changes to schedules, capacity or physical spaces to allow for social distancing. Also in phase four, passport services will resume at the East Columbia and Glenwood branches. However, this phase would still not allow for large events or in-person classes.

The final phase of reopening will signify the library system operating as normal.

“The health, safety and well-being of our staff and customers remains top priority,” said Tonya Aikens, the library system’s president and CEO, in a news release. “Decisions about how we progress to future phases will depend on the most current health and safety guidelines.”

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