The Scenic Regional Library system will require patrons ages 2 and older to wear face masks beginning Friday, Nov. 20.
Library Director Steven Campbell said the decision came after the library’s board of trustees voted unanimously (13-0) at its Nov. 17 meeting to implement the new policy.
“The decision was based on staff input, dramatically rising new COVID cases and soaring positive testing rates in the area,” Campbell said, adding the library will offer a disposable face mask to patrons without one.
Since reopening in June, all Scenic Regional libraries have strongly encouraged patrons to wear masks in the buildings to protect staff and other visitors, but only about half of library patrons have been wearing them, Campbell said. The exception is the Washington branch, which has been requiring masks since June.
Campbell said he does expect some push back from the public when the new mask policy takes effect, but “hopes the patrons will support and respect the library’s policy.”
“For many community members this is where they have access to computers, free Wi-Fi and a fax machine,” Campbell said. “We are also a warming station (for the homeless) in the winter.”
In a recent library staff survey, 74 percent of front-line employees responded that they would like to see the library require face masks and were willing to enforce the new policy. When the same survey was conducted in August, only 50 percent of the staff wanted the library to require the public to wear masks.
“Many public libraries and national retail chains in the state have been implementing mask requirements to protect their front-line employees and other customers,” Campbell said.
A systemwide shutdown, like it saw in April and May, is still “unlikely,” according to Campbell.
“The library and its board have not discussed a shutdown. If it were to shut down, it would most likely be from a mandate from the state or county,” Campbell said.
He said what is more likely is a branch temporarily shutting down due to staffing issues surrounding the virus.
To date, Scenic Regional Library has closed three of its branches since reopening in June due to lack of staff as a result of the virus. The library system saw a 25 percent decrease in in-person services and a 20 percent increase in digital services at the end of its fiscal year, which was June 30.
In addition to its mask policy, Scenic Regional also will be suspending some of its other services such as passport services, notary services and take-a-ticket training due to the virus.
“We believe the close proximity between staff and patrons that is required to perform these services poses an unnecessary health risk to all those involved,” Campbell said.
He added all job interviews will be held over Zoom until further notice.
The Scenic Regional Library system will remain open to the public during its normal service hours and will continue to offer curbside service for the public at all locations.