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Dover council approves library reopening amid ongoing loitering, COVID-19 concerns

Emily Lytle
Dover Post
Dover Public Library, 35 Loockerman Plaza, has been closed to the public since March, offering curbside pick-up for materials placed on hold. That service will end when the library building reopens Nov. 3.

The Dover Public Library will reopen its doors to the public on Nov. 3 after months of closure amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The city’s Parks, Recreation and Community Enhancement Committee approved the modified opening in a 7-3 vote Tuesday night. 

Entangled in the conversation were ongoing concerns about people loitering at the library, as well as the city’s homeless population spending time in the building as the weather gets colder. Several council members and City Manager Donna Mitchell agreed that this could further increase library staff’s risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

“I’m worried about the staff,” Mitchell said. “I agree that our staff is there to serve the public, but I also agree we shouldn’t put them in harm's way.” 

Mitchell pointed out that contact tracing – or keeping track of someone who has tested positive and who they may have exposed – is a challenge at the library. In reaction to that concern, which other council members echoed, the committee recommended staff look into the possibility of taking patrons’ temperatures and collecting their names, for contact tracing purposes, as they enter the building.

Councilman Fred Neil introduced this as an amendment to the original motion, and it passed in a 6-3 vote, with one absent and one abstaining.

Assistant City Manager Matt Harline said the city is considering adding another security officer to make this happen, "if we can afford it."

“The goal is to have a security guard who is walking around and making sure people are behaving in the library and not pestering other patrons," he said. "To also be available in case there are problems at the entrance might be a lot.”

Councilman Roy Sudler voted against the reopening plan, saying he worried the library would become a “hotspot.” 

“I think it could be the host of a major outbreak in downtown Dover because of the element of individuals that are attracted there and that do things that are not supposed to happen,” Sudler said. “I just don’t believe it’s the right time.”

The Dover Public Library opened for curbside pick-up of materials in June. The library building will now reopen starting Nov. 3, and the curbside option will only be available for those at high-risk on days the building is closed.

Council President Hare said people sleeping in the library was his big concern. He said he is worried that security will not enforce the rules and allow people to continue similar behavior once the library reopens.

While Harline recognized that in the past, there have been some guards who "didn't work out,” he said many people have been removed from the library for sleeping, and city staff was developing a stricter security plan just as the pandemic hit. 

This includes new policies prohibiting large bags inside the building and instructing security officers to give fewer warnings before asking someone to leave for eating or sleeping. 

“We made some investments in some equipment, and we’ve done some things to clarify what the acceptable behavior is in the library,” Harline said.

Library Director Brian Sylvester said Sunstates Security will work with library staff to not only enforce safety policies, but public health protocols like mask-wearing and social distancing.

Councilman Matt Lindell approved the reopening plan, but he agreed with Councilman Scott Cole, who said staff should shut the building down immediately if there is any risk to public health.

“At some point we do have to move forward, however, I would be uncomfortable if the enforcement was weak,” Lindell said.

Councilman Gerald Rocha agreed, saying that if city staff follows all guidelines, “I think we can give this a shot and open up the library.”

What to expect

When people enter the library, Sylvester said they will see familiar signs reminding them to follow safety protocols. Everyone will enter and exit through the doors facing the parking lot, and the doors facing Loockerman Street will be an emergency exit only.

While the building is reopening, he reminds patrons that all in-person programming remains suspended, and the meeting rooms will not be available. The plan right now is to resume in-person programs in March, and staff will reevaluate in early 2021, Sylvester said.

If someone needs to come use the WiFi, they are welcome to do that, but staff is encouraging people to come, get the resources they need, and leave.

The plan is to continue quarantining books for 72 hours after check-in. While some libraries like the Kent County Public Library are using UV lighting technology to clean books, Sylvester said this system is not the best fit for Dover due to the high volume of books borrowed here. 

The library will have limited hours:

  • Monday and Sunday: Closed
  • Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  •  Wednesday and Friday: 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Curbside pick-up will end Nov. 2, but it will remain available on a very limited basis when the library is closed, so people who are at high-risk of contracting COVID-19 can still pick-up materials. 

Sylvester said he is looking forward to the opening.

“Because of the timing of when I was hired, I haven’t seen the library open to the public in full swing,” he said. “I'm excited to see what this place is like when it’s hopping.”