JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – It’s been 13 months of silence inside the Johnson City Public Library, and not the usual kind of quiet associated with libraries, but a different kind of quiet brought on by the pandemic.
In March of 2020 when the pandemic was first announced, officials with the library made the decision to close to the public. Now, over a year later, the library is back open to the public but with COVID restrictions in place.
Staff reopened the doors to the Johnson City Public Library on Monday, April 19th. While people are allowed in the building, they must abide by CDC guidelines and wear masks. Computers are now available but only for 20-minute sessions. According to a release, toys, games, and seating areas won’t be available just yet, and all events will continue to be online but people are free to come in and browse the shelves.
Also due to COVID, library staff are not accepting book and media donations at this time.
The building will be open to the public Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. with curbside still an option and running during those same hours.
Becky Norvell and her two sons were the first patrons officially back in the library for the reopening and while they were loyal to the library during the pandemic, frequenting the curbside pickup option, they said nothing beats being back inside. Her son Jack said he was counting down until the doors reopened Monday morning.
“We were counting down the seconds like 3, 2,1, and then a librarian came up and started unlocking the doors,” said Jack. The family noted changes in the Youth Services area of the library and rightfully so, seeing as library staff took this time to redevelop the area. Betty Cobb, the Youth Services Manager said while they had talked about making changes, COVID helped push them into making those adjustments sooner, rather than later.
The area used to feature stars but now has a woodland theme to mirror the theme of the new natural park located just across the front steps of the library. Cobb has worked at the library for 22 years and says one year of being closed was too long, and she’s happy to be back open.
“I’m excited, I can’t wait to see people I’m really hoping that everyone puts their mask on and comes on in. We’re really stressing social distancing, we want it to be a safe environment for everyone,” said Cobb.
Others who frequent the library see its reopening as a return to some sense of normalcy.
“Life is starting to pick back up around here so maybe we can do the things again that we kind of started to take for granted like going to the library or getting something to eat downtown,” said Reginald Smith.
While the library has reopened to the public, you must wear face coverings while inside the building and it’s operating in a kind of grab-and-go style, with additional self-check kiosks placed throughout the building.
It’s a phased reopening and the next phase will be expanding hours and adding back seating but as of right now, there is no timeline as to when they will enter this phase. Right now, staff said it’s just important that they’re open.
“We really wanted to make sure that the moment was right to reopen but I know that there’s no way that we can duplicate the experience of browsing the collection and picking out your own materials so folks are really excited to get back in the doors and do that,” said Director of the Johnson City Public Library, Julia Turpin.
As an extra precaution, all rented or checked-out materials are quarantined for a total of 24 hours before being re-shelved.