Worcester Library System Outlines Reopening Phases

BERLIN – Plans for the phased reopening of five library branches and efforts to gather community feedback highlighted a board of trustees meeting this month.

In a virtual meeting May 12, Library Director Jennifer Ranck briefed the Worcester County Library Board of Trustees on efforts to plan for the reopening of the library, collect survey responses and schedule a public input meeting.

Ranck provided an update on proposed plans to reopen the library branches as statewide recovery phases are introduced.

She said the first phase would include bringing staff back to the library on alternating days, but to keep the branches closed to patrons. This phase went into effect May 18 with branches opening for book returns. All items returned will be quarantined for 72 hours.

“We are thinking we should have an A team and a B team,” she said. “In case one person is sick and a team has to quarantine, we will have a backup team.”

Ranck said the second phase – likely to start after Memorial Day — would include curbside service for patrons wishing to pick up materials, while the third phase would include setting up appointments for patrons to use library computers.

“To me, the computer usage has been the hardest thing because it’s a service we can’t replicate …,” she said. “We have WiFi on 24 hours a day, but that means you have to own a device and not everyone is in that position.”

The final phase, Ranck noted, would include the reopening of all library branches to patrons. She said social distancing guidelines and strict cleaning practices would remain in place.

“We don’t have everything we need to reopen to patrons just yet,” she said, adding that the library staff would receive facemasks, gloves and hand sanitizer in the coming weeks.

Ranck said the library would also receive nearly $20,000 in federal grants to purchase new equipment for the library. She said the money could be used to purchase hotspots or barcode scanners, which would reduce contact by having patrons scan their own library cards.

“We need to be thinking about how best to use those funds,” she said.

Until the library can reopen to patrons, Ranck said resources and programs can be accessed digitally.

Ranck told board members this week the library was collecting survey responses for a strategic plan that prioritizes ongoing decisions about library services offered to the community.

“We posted a link to the public to gather input online,” she said. “The target is to get 500 responses. I would love to get 5,000 responses.”

Every few years, the Worcester County Library develops a strategic plan that charts a course for the future of library services. By taking the online survey, participants can voice their hopes for the community.

“Once we get all the information back, we will synthesize it the best we can,” Ranck said. “It will help us develop a plan for the next three to five years.”

Ranck said a link to the online survey can be found on the library’s website and social media accounts.

“I think we’ll let that go for six to eight weeks and hopefully get some responses,” she said.

Officials noted that all answers will be kept confidential. As of Tuesday, roughly 50 people have completed the survey.

“We ask for demographics and it’s mostly people from Ocean Pines,” Assistant Director Rachael Stein said, “so we would like to get some input from the rest of the county.”

Last week, Ranck presented the Worcester County Commissioners with cost estimates for a renovation/addition at the Pocomoke branch as well as for a new shared facility on a vacant lot near the Pocomoke River.

“That helped them make a decision and have a better idea of the two sites and how to evaluate them,” she told the board on Tuesday.

The proposal under consideration is the construction of a new shared facility that would house both the Pocomoke branch and a senior center. The proposed 17,000-square-foot building is projected to cost $8.5 million, but the commissioners’ approval of a building scheme last week means Ranck can now apply for grant funding from the state.

Ranck told the board this week next steps include completing the second phase of an environmental study at the proposed site and exploring fundraising efforts. The library is also looking to host a community input meeting that will coincide with the Pocomoke branch’s 50th anniversary celebration this summer.

“It may be a way for us to reach out …,” she said. “We still have a lot of hurdles, but we want to get community input.”

If an in-person meeting cannot be held, Ranck said the library would consider hosting a meeting using the video conferencing platform Zoom.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.