Excitement abound as Anoka County reopens libraries

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Anoka County was the first in the metro to reopen its libraries, welcoming patrons back Wednesday afternoon.

People were eager to get back inside, forming a line out the door at Northtown Library in Blaine.

Libraries have been closed for the past three months due to the pandemic.

"We're really excited to welcome the community back in," said Anoka County Interim Library Director Patti Hetrick. "People are excited to come."

The libraries will be open at 50% capacity. The hours of operation will be 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

The reopening comes with many changes, including arrows on the ground for one-way foot traffic, every other computer taken out of commission for social distancing and roped-off furniture.

"As we look at what we knew in March versus what we know now, we've learned so much that we can create a space that is physically safe," said Stacey Hendren, president-elect of the Minnesota Library Association.

Hendren said interest in libraries is skyrocketing, with library card applications on the rise.

"Libraries are there in your time of crisis, so when people are losing jobs, they seek out the library because we have live tutors in our database to help people practice interviews, to create a resumé and for skill-building resources," Hendren said.

Patrons had placed 14,000 books on hold to pick up Wednesday across Anoka County's eight reopening library branches.

Hendren said e-book use is also 30% higher than last year.

Libraries face some unique challenges though, including the sheer number of items people will touch.

"With over 400,000 items, it's going to be nearly impossible for us to keep all the books clean," Hendren said.

Hetrick added, "We always encourage people to wash their hands, if they want to leave the book sitting for a couple days just to be on the safe side, but realistically we can't quarantine every book people touch."

Masks will be strongly encouraged inside Anoka County libraries but aren't mandatory.

For more information about Anoka County Libraries, visit AnokaCountyLibrary.org.