Dowagiac District Library reopens for partial access

DOWAGIAC — The inside of the Dowagiac District Library looks different than it did a few months ago. White arrows run along the carpet, guiding visitors in one direction. Previously welcoming study chairs are stacked atop tables to discourage people from staying long, and plastic shields now line the checkout counter.

According to director Matt Weston, the changes have been made to welcome the public back to the library safely following months of COVID-19 related closures.

“We are taking things slow and safe,” Weston said, a mask covering his face and mouth.

Monday, the Dowagiac District Library entered phase three of its reopening plan, reopening to the public for partial access. Partial access allows the building to be opened at 25 percent capacity and for patrons to browse the shelves for 30 minutes. Earlier this month, the library began offering front door pick up and allowed patrons to reserve computers for half an hour at a time.

Neighboring Buchanan, Niles and Cass district libraries also opened for partial access this week.

Currently, the Dowagiac District Library is open noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Each day, the library closes for half an hour for cleaning and sanitation. During partial access, the library will continue to offer curbside pickup and extended WiFi that can be accessed via the parking lot across the street and the benches outside.

Those who enter the library are required to wear facial coverings and maintain 6 feet of social distance from staff and other patrons. Food and beverage are not permitted in the library unless medically necessary. Patrons with any symptoms of infectious diseases, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, should not enter the library.

As of 3:30 p.m. Monday, the library had seen more than two dozen patrons, which Weston said was comparable to pre-COVID-19 numbers.

“It’s nice to see people, even if it is behind a mask,” Weston said. “People seem to be happy that we are open.”

Though the library was closed since March, Weston said the library never stopped offering services. Instead, it revamped its online offerings and began offering virtual programs such as storytime and book club. Those virtual programs will remain in place until the library can enter phase four of its reopening plan, which involves full access to computers, materials and public spaces. At this time, Weston cannot say when phase four might take place.

“It all depends on the infection rates and if they stay low,” Weston said. “If cases begin to spike again, we are easily able to move back a phase. … I’m always keeping an eye on our side of the state and any executive orders that come through.”

Until the Dowagiac District Library can fully reopen, Weston said the staff is happy to have people back in the library, even if it is only for a half an hour at a time.

“If part of your normal life is browsing for books and movies, we are ready for you,” he said.

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