Libraries’ reopening brings people back to ‘community living room’

I wasn’t sure how my two toddlers would react on a recent afternoon as I held tightly to their hands, walking up to Holland’s Herrick District Library for the first time since Michigan’s stay-at-home order began in March. 

Violet and Quinn Tunison were excited to back at the Howard Miller Public Library in Zeeland.Before the pandemic, the library felt like a second home to us and was a place we had visited once or twice a week to play, meet new friends, and load up on new books and movies. Still, we knew things would be different now, with COVID-19 risks present. 

We walked through the doors, clad in our masks, and a greeter waved hello. “Do you think Swimmy is still there, Mom?” my son asked, referring to the library’s pet turtle we love to visit. 

We walked upstairs, and my daughter squealed in delight as she saw the turtle in his tank. We looked over and saw the children’s librarians sitting at their desk, now separated by a plastic curtain. My son didn’t even seem to notice the difference. “Do you think they were there the whole time, Mom?” he asked. 

He was so happy just to see the familiar faces. It felt great to be back. 

Extensive planning

The reopening of Herrick’s downtown Holland library building on July 6 came with extensive planning, says Sara DeVries, the library’s Community Relations Manager. 

“We have had many, many plans that we have either scrapped or had to rethink,” DeVries says, noting how staff has considered best practices during this time and the responsiveness of the community. “It’s just a matter of reacting to how the news is changing.” 

Patrons are asked to wear face masks at all times while in the building and, if a patron has forgotten to bring one, a greeter is able to provide a donated one. Outdoor drop boxes for book, video, and other returns are available only during business hours as staff immediately gather returned materials and place them in quarantine for 96 hours before they can be reshelved. 


The building has a revamped air conditioning system to circulate more air. Plexiglass dividers have been installed at service points for added safety during the checkout of library materials, and children’s toys have been removed. Restrooms are open but drinking fountains are closed. 
A statute of Ray Herrick is masked, signaling that everyone has to wear a mask at Herrick District Library.
Computers are available for use on the main floor — with time limits in place — but they are not available in the children’s area. Library staff is aware of how valued the computer stations are, especially to patrons who do not have internet access at home, and being able to provide that service to those who need it the most was a driving factor in the effort to reopen, DeVries says. 

Warm, inviting

While patrons are able to continue searching for and reserving books online for curbside pickup, that doesn’t feel quite the same as having a conversation with a librarian, she says. 

“It’s just so much warmer and more inviting to do that in person with a staff member,” DeVries says. 

Herrick’s North Branch in Holland is currently undergoing an extensive remodeling and expansion project, and materials there have been moved temporarily to a storefront at The Shops at Westshore, 12331 James St. Currently, only curbside pickup is available there. 

Other libraries open

The Howard Miller Public Library in Zeeland opened July 13, also with many safety precautions in place. The library is limiting capacity to 100 people and is continuing children’s story times online, as other Lakeshore libraries are doing. The summer reading program is also available online. 

Free craft bags tailored to young children, teens, and adults are available at the Zeeland library for patrons to take home. Library staff also are offering mystery bags for curbside pickup for those unsure about what books to read next. Patrons are asked to call the library to reserve a mystery bag.

Adult bags are offered in three categories: mystery, fiction, and Christian fiction, and each bag includes three books. Children’s bags and family read-aloud bags with chapter books are also available. 

Barriers have been put up at Herrick District Library's checkout station.
The Spring Lake District Library building also recently reopened, but staff are asking patrons to limit browsing to 30 minutes. Computer access is available, though it is by appointment and only for an hour. Those wishing to use a computer are asked to call the library first to schedule. 

Reopening soon

Loutit District Library in Grand Haven is currently open for curbside pickup of library materials. The library building is slated to reopen Aug. 3 at limited capacity. Masks will be required.

Temporary hours will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, with dedicated hours for seniors, pregnant women, and those with chronic medical conditions from 10 a.m. to noon Monday. 

The library is asking patrons to leave the Monday morning hours for the most vulnerable in the community, and to limit visits to an hour or less. 

Marketing Coordinator and Youth Services Librarian Chelsea McCoy says Loutit staff collected nearly 15,000 items that were checked out ahead of the stay-at-home order and recently finished reshelving them all. They watched the reopening of other libraries before setting a date to open their doors. 

Staff gets crafty

While the building has been closed, staff have provided make-and-take crafts, available at the beginning of each week in the library’s parking garage. 

They have organized scavenger hunts for teens and families to complete on their own time, and a StoryWalk, with pages from a book posted on signs along a path, for families to read together as they walk. Each week this summer includes a different StoryWalk book, and the location varies from week to week. Information about the current StoryWalk and other online programming is available each week on the library’s Facebook page. 

Loutit staff miss their daily in-person interactions with patrons and know patrons also miss being inside. Reopening fully will be a process, McCoy says. 

“People call (the library) the community living room,” she says. “That’s something we really pride ourselves on and love.” 

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