At first, a library building without its patrons feels like a betrayal, a breach of the trust the community places in us. When the library closed its doors to the public on March 15 to slow the spread of COVID-19, there was a palpable sense of loss among the staff. For a while, we were able to continue working in the building: sanitizing items, catching up on a backlog of work, and looking forward to the day when we could reopen. Staffing hours were staggered to ensure we could maintain proper social distancing. As a result, when the stay-at-home order came, few of us had a chance to say goodbye as we headed into isolation at home.
Not to be kept from our work, we reached out virtually and collaborated to continue providing services to our patrons remotely. This included ramping up social media posts, updating our website daily, and answering emails and voicemails forwarded to us at home. We reached out to other libraries to learn from their new virtual programs, watched webinars, and took this chance to further hone our skills.
At our first virtual staff meeting, people were excited to see each other’s faces, greeting each other like we’d been apart for months, not for just over a week. We discussed a future where we could see each other and our public in-person again, even though we didn’t know when that would be. We shared what we were doing to pass the time, both with work and at home. We expressed our anxieties, celebrated our successes, and supported each other as only a close library staff can. Since then we’ve taken it day by day, adapting to our new working environment and learning how to collaborate remotely. This distance and isolation has only fueled our desire to reach out to our community, to adapt to our new conditions, and to innovate as a library.
Closing our doors was a difficult, heart-wrenching decision that affected us deeply. I was only hired at the Montrose Library in November, but in that short amount of time I’ve come to love my new town and its people. I miss working with my colleagues in person, seeing their faces, and talking excitedly about all the great things we want the library to be and to do. I miss talking to our community partners about how we can work to help Montrose and its citizens, all of us looking forward to a bright future for the city and county.
But, most importantly, I miss you.
When it comes down to it, I believe the heart of the library is you: the patrons. Our building, our books, our resources, and our staff are created, hired, trained, and designed to be of service to you. During this difficult time, we will continue to serve you in a capacity that is safe for everyone involved, but know that we all look forward to the day when we can open our doors again, invite you in, and welcome all of you back into the library.
Katie Wheeler is an adult services librarian at the Montrose Regional Library.