Vernon Area Library officials finalizing plan to reopen to public

No dates have been set, but Vernon Area Public Library officials are finalizing a plan to gradually reopen to the public amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first step will involve making the building in Lincolnshire safe with thorough cleaning and the installation of partitions by the library's custodial staff and contractors, Director Cynthia Fuerst said during Monday night's library board meeting. Employees also will be trained how to properly use masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment.

In the second phase, books and other materials that were checked out before the crisis could be returned via the boxes in front of the library. In this phase, items could be reserved and checked out curbside on a limited basis, too, perhaps three days a week, Fuerst said.

Opening the library building to patrons would come later, officials said.

"We're eager to get back in the building, but we want to do this with an overabundance of caution," Fuerst told the board during the meeting, which was held remotely due to the statewide stay-at-home order.

Several suburban libraries already have begun offering curbside service, including those in Naperville, Elgin, Wheaton and Streamwood. Officials at other libraries, including the Cook Memorial facilities in Libertyville and Vernon Hills, have discussed reopening but haven't yet taken that big step.

Vernon Area's plan is tied to the progress of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan, which also is in phases. Library staffers have talked a lot about employee and staff safety, Fuerst said, and it comes down to how much risk they're willing to accept.

When patrons finally are allowed to return books, DVDs and other materials, the items will be quarantined in bins in the library's large meeting room for seven days before they're handled by staff, Fuerst said. They'll also be exposed to UV light to kill any coronavirus germs, she said.

When patrons start checking out items, they'll do so by placing holds over the phone or using their computers or mobile devices.

Employees will place reserved items in bags and deliver them to the trunks of waiting cars with no personal interaction.

Stephen Territo, the head of library services at Vernon Area, estimated each transaction will take about 12 minutes. As such, the number of items a patron can check out will be capped, he said.

"We have to limit it so we can serve the most amount of people as possible," Territo said.

Due dates will be extended, Territo said, probably to at least four weeks for most items.

Although no vote was taken, library board members supported the plan.

"The most important thing here is keeping our employees safe," board President Marc Fenton said.

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