Sue Ferguson of Sabbatus gathers an armload of books Monday on the first morning the Lewiston Public Library reopened for browsing. “We haven’t been able to come in and browse,” she said. Ferguson, who participates in Book Reach, is looking forward to the day she will be able to read to children again in person. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — The Lewiston Public Library reopened in a limited capacity Monday, allowing patrons to browse the first and second floors in several one-hour blocks throughout the day.

It’s the first time in a year the public has been able to do that.

Library Director Marcela Peres said Monday that while the library has been offering curbside material pickups since June of last year, the one-hour open blocks will “allow for safe access to the building while reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission from prolonged indoor exposure.”

The one-hour blocks will be 11 a.m to noon; 3 to 4 p.m.; and 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to noon and 3 to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

During the first block Monday, Sue Ferguson of Sabbatus gathered an armload of books. Ferguson participates in Book Reach, an early childhood literacy program run by the Lewiston and Auburn public libraries. The program is doing virtual book readings, but Ferguson said she’s looking forward to the day when she’ll be able to do in-person readings again.

Peres said the library has been offering open sessions in the computer section and appointment-only visits to the third floor Children’s Room since last summer.

She said library officials are already working on what the next phase will look like, but said it’s going to depend on future updates to public library guidance from the state, which dictates current best safety practices for library operations.

“Right now, we ask patrons to limit their time in the building to 30 minutes, which is the biggest challenge,” she said. “This ‘open block’ system was the best method we found for offering access to the most possible people without needing a mechanism to track how long every single person is in the building.”

According to a city news release, staff will be tracking capacity limits in the building to ensure proper physical distancing and will remind patrons as the one-hour time limit comes to an end. Entry will be allowed throughout the hour, but the building will be cleared at the end of each block, so patrons should plan accordingly, the release said.

Peres said if the Maine CDC updates the library checklist to indicate it’s safe to allow people to spend more time inside the library, “we’ll certainly ease restrictions in some way, for example, lengthening the block times to multiple hours instead of just one.”

They’re also looking at ways to expand access to the Children’s Room, but Peres said that’s “a slightly more difficult situation because children will be the last to be eligible for vaccines, and all of our decisions are made with patron and staff safety in mind first and foremost.”

The library will continue to offer curbside pickups, and computer and copier use will continue to be first-come, first-serve during the open blocks.

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