Megan Stone reads as part of storytime for the Fulton County Library System.

After more than a year of virtual offerings and curbside service, DeKalb and Fulton County Library Systems are reopening in phases to keep patrons and staff safe.

DeKalb patrons must make an appointment to use computers or browse six days a week at 21 branches (excluding Stone Mountain and Scottdale-Tobie Grant branches). Starting in May, limited numbers of Fulton patrons can use computers and browse at 32 branches on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The Auburn Avenue Research Library is open by appointment only and the Central Library remains closed for the time being as renovations are completed.

“Our duty is to serve the public,” said Gayle Holloman, Executive Director Fulton County Library System. “We want them to come back in, see their smiling faces and share thoughts about books. We miss that, too. We are appreciative of their patience and we ask that they hold on just a little bit longer.” 

Curbside services and virtual programming are expected to continue through the summer for both library systems. In-person programming and meeting room rentals could phase in later this fall.

Curbside pickup at the Buckhead branch library.

“We’re still here even though we had to close our doors for a while,” said Alison L. Weissinger, Director DeKalb County Public Library. “We recognize our place as the community living room and are working very hard to welcome people back in.”

COVID-19 was transformational as local libraries shifted from gathering spots and expanded virtual offerings for all ages.

“We figured out how to get people library cards online and added to all of our digital databases,” Weissinger said. “Most book clubs have stayed active on Zoom or Google Meet. Our Georgia Center for the Book author programs are on Zoom.”

Fulton County’s expanded digital offerings included Kanopy, a database of thousands of movies and documentaries and Paper.co, which provides online homework help from expert tutors.

To replicate what was offered inside the branches, both created taped or live stream programming.

“If you go to our website [fulcolibrary.org] you will see all sorts of wonderful activities that children can participate in. We have craft programs where materials are given out to the public when they come for curbside services,” Holloman said.

Innovative staff, like West End’s Bonita McZorn, created a children’s book window display that allowed children to select their own books from outside the branch. Other branches, like Cleveland Avenue, followed.

Ruthie Metzier works behind plexiglass at the Decatur Library.

Local libraries responded to the increased need for internet access and devices.

“We boosted our WiFi signal for about 10 hours a day to provide internet access outside our buildings,” Weissinger said. Demand increased for the “Take the Internet Home with You” 200 hotspot checkout program, funded primarily by DeKalb Library Foundation. 

Fulton County’s 140 Chromebooks and 120 hot spots were constantly checked out.

“If we had 1,000 of them, we’d be able to get them all out in a day,” Holloman said. 

Now patrons can access computers inside nearly all Fulton and DeKalb branches. Fulton County is starting with two days, Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., for limited number of patrons to use computers and browse. Curbside services will still be offered on other days. 

“We want to phase in. We know things are changing for the better but we don’t want to start too fast and then close everything down,” Holloman said. Also, library staff are helping with vaccine scheduling and intake. 

DeKalb County patrons can schedule an hour appointment for computer use (with 30-minute cleaning time in-between) or browsing. Branch safety modifications include plexiglass shields at desks, temperature scanners, hand sanitizer, tagging available computers and enforcing the county mask mandate. As long as staff remain split into two teams, hours will remain 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays-Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays.

Curbside pickup at the Cleveland Avenue branch.

“We’ll start out at 40 percent capacity inching that up as the staff and the public get vaccinated,” Weissinger said. “Once the community reaches herd immunity, we’ll get much closer to no time limits or capacity limits.  Probably the last thing added will be in-person programming. We hope that’s toward the end of the year.”  

Summer programming, such as the statewide Tails and Tales summer reading challenge, will be largely virtual with some outdoor offerings, like expanding StoryWalks to include Glenlake Park, Dunwoody, Arabia Mountain and Clarkston. 

“We take a book and put the pages onto signs that follow a path through a park or nature area,” Weissinger said. “It gets you moving outdoors with your family and reading.” Books aligned with the summer theme will change every other week and can be read in English and Spanish. 

As we return to our favorite branches, let’s thank the staff who have been creative and adaptive throughout the pandemic to foster community and love of reading. 

“The staff has stepped up – they’ve been phenomenal. As we move forward we are going to adjust and readjust. And before long we should be back to more of what we call normal traditional library service,” Holloman said.