Book bundles in the children’s section, a popular service pre-pandemic, have been increased to cut down on time spent searching for individual items. Books are grouped together by subject, author or reading level.

Book bundles in the children’s section, a popular service pre-pandemic, have been increased to cut down on time spent searching for individual items. Books are grouped together by subject, author or reading level.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Farmington Community Library reopens to patrons

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published September 22, 2020


FARMINGTON/HILLS — After nearly five months of in-person services being closed to patrons, the Farmington Community Library branches have reopened to the public with limited access and capacities.

Both branches moved to the library’s “phase three” Sept. 8, after closing March 14 in light of the pandemic. The library continued to offer digital services to patrons throughout the closure.

Patrons can now make their way inside the branch buildings for 30-minute visits at a time. The Main Library, on 12 Mile Road, has a maximum capacity of 40 people, staff included, and the Farmington Branch, on Liberty Street, can allow 25 people inside at a time.

The library will be open noon-6 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, as well as 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. Both branches will be closed Wednesdays and Sundays.

Library Director Riti Grover said the transition was guided by a number of factors, including a desire to allow patrons to return as long as COVID-19 safety measures — plexiglass barriers, signage, regular sanitation of touch points and a book sanitizer — were solidified and staffing numbers were adequate to handle a new influx of responsibilities.

“Thankfully, it has been smooth sailing so far. We have not had to make anybody wait (outside). People have been very conscious and compliant with our requests,” Grover said.

Despite the jump to in-person services, much of the library’s on-site digital services, like computers, printers and fax machines, are still on hold. Grover hopes to open those services up soon but wanted to ensure that the transition to phase three went smoothly first.

“Things like programming, meeting and conference room availability, (and) the indoor activities where there are a large number of people gathering in one place would only be done in the last phase — phase five — of reopening,” she said. “At this point, we don’t feel this would be a proven step to take with all the safety precautions we have to maintain. At this point with service and compliance, safety is our top priority for staff and patrons.”

Many library staff have returned after a controversial furlough decision made by the library board April 24.

“It’s been a love fest. The patrons are so happy to be back, and we’re so happy to see them,” Farmington Branch Adult Services Librarian Deb Hemmye said. “It’s been so nice to have them back, and almost everyone has gushed about how happy they are to be back in the library. It’s been wonderful.”

However, Hemmye said it’s been “stressful” since she returned from furlough June 22.


Staff stretched thin
Quick — and what Hemmye said she believes to be last-minute — decisions have caused stress to staff that she believes could have been avoided. Hemmye said staff had only a week’s notice before opening the library’s doors. The decision to entirely erase a backlog of fines from almost 1,200 patrons’ accounts was made at a Thursday night board meeting Aug. 13 and was expected to take effect the following Monday.

“I don’t feel respected when this is (all) just kind of dumped on me,” she said, adding that a listserv of library staff from across Michigan she’s on paints a different picture than what she said is occurring at the Farmington Community Library. “There’s a reason all these other libraries talked it through, answered questions and talked about how it was going to work and gave staff the time to do it.”

Library Board Vice President Bill Largent acknowledges that decisions have been made quickly since the pandemic hit, but he feels the expediency is justified.

“Any decision can be second guessed, but in light of the urgency and how quickly things were coming at us, I think we’ve done fine. Things continue to operate without a hitch,” he said, adding that the decision to go fine free came to the board from staff’s recommendation more than a year ago. “I thought we had voted on it a long time ago,” he said.

Largent said his focus is on best practices, whether it’s a library, a university, a business, a school or a church. He said he thinks the library’s best practices were inefficient and believes changing them would bring benefits to patrons.

“It’s no question this has been a difficult period for everybody, but it’s given us an opportunity to evaluate our systems, services and programming we have in the community, and I believe — coming out on the other end — we’re going to have a much stronger, more vibrant library.”

Operations have gotten better, though, Hemmye said. The Farmington Branch was able to catch up on nearly 4,000 holds in early August and has stayed caught up since. However, operational woes linger without the library’s staff at full capacity, she said.

According to data provided by library administrators, as of Sept. 3, 93% of full-time and part-time staff have been recalled from furlough. Less than half, 41%, of pages have been called back, though Grover said pages are only called in on an as-needed basis normally and that staff has been called back “systematically” as services have continued to return closer to normal.

“I think COVID-19 is ruling that space right now. We have to be very careful with the safety of everybody at this point. Full activity is something that I hope can happen as soon as possible, but can I place a finger on the calendar and say this date? Not at this moment,” Grover said.

The library is on its way to being staffed at 100% capacity, and even though Hemmye said the library has recalled more staff, “it’s still not enough,” she said.

“It’s always a stretch to cover the desk and get the holds pulled. We’re always short staffed. We’re always stretched thin,” she said, adding that curbside services have been more labor-intensive than she first imagined.

Children’s page Sandi Koponen wants to return but hasn’t been called in, and she said she’s concerned she may never be asked to return.

“I just have a bad feeling that the board may be trying to cut salaries and people, and the furlough is their excuse to do it,” Koponen said. “Then again, I’m a page. I don’t make that much money. I don’t have that many hours. Why would you cut my position?”

Koponen said her co-workers who aren’t pages have taken on many of her normal duties, on top of their own.

“I know even if I were to go back now, it wouldn’t be back to normal for a long time, but still I could be helping the librarians put together virtual programming. Just something,” she said. “This new normal is hard to get used to, so if I could provide some type of help, that would make me feel a lot better.”

Grover said she hopes the full staff can return.

“I hope they know I miss them, and I want us to have full services back soon,” Grover said.


Talking timelines
When the library will make the jump to phase four, and eventually phase five — a return to full services — is still to be determined. Grover couldn’t adequately predict either transition, nor could she say with great confidence that the library would be in phase five prior to 2021.

With fluctuating COVID-19 case numbers, she is cautious of “naming any date,” she said.

Her hope is to only continue forward, but she hasn’t ruled out the possibility that the library could have to take steps back, as well.

“There is a possibility, and that’s why we are taking the safety measure to this extent,” she said. “When we created the reopening protocols, we did keep those possibilities in mind so that it was a step incrementally in services, and if we had to take a step back, that would not mean completely closing down or stopping all the services. That would just mean taking a step back so that we are still positioned to be able to serve our community to the best of our ability.

“Of course, 100% capacity is something we are hoping to achieve sooner than later,” she added.

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