CH@T: Chatham’s public libraries welcoming patrons again

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Inside the Chatham Community Library, which fully reopened this past week.
Inside the Chatham Community Library, which fully reopened this past week.

More than a year after a pandemic turned operations at Chatham County’s public libraries upside down, they’ve re-opened to patrons. This week, Rita Van Duinen, the branch manager for Pittsboro’s Chatham Community Library, talks about opening doors, going back to “pre-COVID-19” operating hours and other goings-on at the county’s three-library system.

A native of Greensboro, Van Duinen has been a Chatham County resident for more than 20 years. She began working in libraries while pursuing a degree in Russian Language and Literature at the University of Oregon in the 1980s. Van Duinen returned to North Carolina and in the early 1990s began a 17-year career at the UNC University Library system, during which she earned a Master of Science in Library Science from the school. Following a stint as lead instructor for Central Carolina Community College Library and Information Technology program and time spent as a consultant to the Washington, D.C.-based Council on Library and Information Resources, she became branch manager of the Chatham Community Library in 2017.

Nothing — aside from going into a grocery store unmasked (if you’re fully vaccinated) — says “post-pandemic” like the Chatham County Public Libraries announcing the resumption of pre-COVID hours of operation. You and your staff have been working without patrons for 14 months now … first, let’s talk about how that feels to each of you, being able to welcome visitors inside the county’s three libraries again…

Chatham County libraries did a “soft” reopening on April 5, with limited hours and limited services. Admittedly, it’s been quite slow at the Pittsboro branch, but we think that will change once more people are fully vaccinated and our COVID numbers continue to trend down. I also think it’s a matter of personal comfort levels; most staff are fully vaccinated, and we continue to mask up while inside the building as a matter of personal choice.

It’s been a very quiet 14 months without our patrons, so we are delighted to have visitors inside our facilities again. It’s what we do! The library is one of the most public-facing services I can think of.

For the record, what are the hours of operation and what other procedural changes are being made (any post-COVID changes, or are we essentially turning the clock back to pre-pandemic operational plans)? And what’s the word on mask requirement?

Effective May 24, Chatham County libraries returned to their pre-COVID hours of operation, which vary slightly at each branch. Hours of operation are:

Chatham Community Library (Pittsboro):

• Monday – Thursday: 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.

• Friday: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.

• Saturday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Goldston Library:

• Monday & Wednesday: 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., 2 – 6 p.m.

• Tuesday: CLOSED

• Thursday: 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., 2 – 8 p.m.

• Friday: 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., 2 – 5 p.m.

• Saturday: 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Wren Memorial Library (Siler City):

• Monday: noon – 8 p.m.

• Tuesday – Friday: 10 a.m. – 6 pm.

• Saturday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Per NC Executive Order 215 (issued May 17), masks are no longer required in a public setting such as the library, especially for the fully vaccinated. Masks are recommended for the unvaccinated, but not required. Free masks are available at the Pittsboro branch for anyone who might want to be extra cautious while inside. Capacity limitations inside the libraries has also been lifted as a result of the executive order.

Curbside pickup is still available, right?

Curbside service is still offered at all three branches for those patrons who aren’t yet comfortable coming indoors and as a convenience. Curbside service hours remain the same, Monday-Friday, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Call your local branch to schedule a pick-up time.

How did you all come to the decision to re-open to the public?

Once Executive Order 215 was signed, we knew we (had) to act quickly to reconstitute our services. We followed the lead of county management who in turn, follows that at the state level. We’ve been busy changing signage, moving furniture back in place, and making the library as welcoming as ever while also providing plenty of hand sanitizer and contactless service points.

One of the staples of the Chatham Community Library is programming. Lectures, classes, etc. What has to happen in order for those to resume in-person?

At present, all library programming will remain virtual until further notice. This includes our Summer Reading program, an adult programming in the works, and instruction. One exception is the new Outdoor Story Times which will begin each week in June and held at three different locations across the county, outdoors on the patio at CCCC’s Natural Chef Café, outdoors at the Goldston Library and at Washington Street Park in Siler City. Kudos to our Youth Services staff who’ve been working diligently to return to some sense of normalcy in their programming. And as a result, have created a new partnership with Siler City Parks and Recreation. Visit the library’s website for more details on Outdoor Story Time,

In person programming can take months in advance to plan. I don’t foresee us returning to in-person events until the fall at the earliest.

Anything else you want to highlight or discuss?

Our Friends of Library is currently planning a return to their fall book sale in September. They are still working out all the details so stay tuned for more information on that. The book sales are quite popular and a great community event. We are excited to return to a sense of “community” with reopening and the eventual return to programming and events!


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