Update: Due to the state closure, the library has stopped offering use of their computers, tables, and notary services.

The Hillsboro Library reopened its doors last month after months of only offering remote or curbside services due to COVID-19.

Patrons now have the choice to enter the Brookwood and Shute Park Hillsboro Public Library locations to pick up holds, return borrowed items, get new library cards or upgrade e-Access cards, use a computer, print documents, and get assistance from a librarian in person. By calling in advance, people can reserve a computer or a charging table and make notary appointments. Outdoor facilities like the ballot boxes and nearby nature parks have been available throughout the closure and continue to remain open.

“I’m really proud that we’re finding a way for staff to return to work safely, because I think we need it for human connection, not just for ourselves, but for each other,” said Hillary Ostlund, a library manager in charge of staffing.

However, things are noticeably different from the way they used to be.

“Often people’s first question when they approach the building is ‘Whoa, what happened here?” said Molly Brandt, a librarian supervisor.

It’s easy to see why. At the Brookwood library, a new sign displays the library’s shortened hours in front of a row of recently erected blue awnings where people wait six feet apart in line. Inside, the spacious areas with people milling about are gone. Instead, smiling staff greet patrons and direct traffic flow along pathways marked with colorful tape. Browsing the books is still off-limits, so a sign highlights a shelf full of surprise multimedia “grab bags” for visitors to take. Patrons are required to wear masks at all times and groups of people, including families, are asked to send only one representative in to retrieve holds. The coffee shop area is blocked off by sheets of plastic.

“We’re really not about barriers,” said Brandt, “but we have to be about safety.”

Ostlund seconded Brandt’s feelings on the disappointing—but necessary—changes.

“It does feel unnatural,” she said.

Still, the library’s reopening of the building represents a huge step in progress that staff have worked long and hard to realize. And for the community, it’s an important one, too.

Ken Christian, a library manager in charge of data and technology, said many people were disheartened when the library only offered limited services outdoors. Some people even asked if they could come in just to sit in the building again.

“That was especially heartbreaking,” Christian said.

Now, the community has that chance again, even if it isn’t quite the same as it was before.

“We know that we’re never going to return to whatever normal was,” said Ostlund. “We’re creating what that will look like.” — Savannah Olsen

Photo: Inside the Hillsboro Library, colorful tape directs traffic flow along pathways (Savannah Olsen)

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