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Library: re-closing hits the most vulnerable the hardest

Updated: Oct 30, 2020

The Anne Arundel County Public Library chose to re-close its doors recently, in part, because a high number of patrons would not wear masks to help prevent the transmission of coronavirus, or they were not keeping those masks on while they visited. Those hurt the most by those decisions to resist the emergency protocols are very likely the most vulnerable in the community, one staff member said.

Christine Feldmann, the library’s communication director said there had been over 500


incidents of visitors not complying with the emergency mask and social distancing protocols. Police had been called to the libraries several times for the same reason. County government had also expressed health concerns to the library about the small rooms staff needed to work together in, she said.

“You know, personally, I'm very upset that we have to do this,” said Christine Feldmann, the library system’s communication’s director. “Our most vulnerable populations are going to bear the brunt of the fallout from closing our doors. The people who don't have access to computers, people who don't have cell phones, the people that don't have anywhere to go in the middle of the day, the homeless, transients, they're the ones who are going to suffer the most. So that that upsets me tremendously.”

According to a press release the library’s staff documented hundreds of instances of customers failing to wear face coverings or following social distancing protocols. A staff survey indicated more than half of the survey’s responders felt safe at work only sometimes, rarely or never.

In the August 13 release the system’s CEO, Skip Auld, was quoted as saying:

“While we are extremely disappointed in the need to reduce in person service, these operational changes will result in a safer environment for staff and customers. Since opening on July 6, our staff have experienced unacceptable behavior from a small number of customers who refuse to follow laws on mask usage and social distancing. Some library employees have even been cursed at and breathed on in a deliberate attempt to do them harm. Our staff must be able to feel safe in order to successfully operate our libraries.”

The library system has traditionally been one few open gathering spaces available to the general public. For residents of the county’s many communities it has been a place to disseminate knowledge and information, meet, learn, read, rest and talk. Over recent decades the institution has sometimes provided a platform for disadvantaged residents to seek shelter or help.

Feldmann said the patrons who were responsible for the protocol problems appeared to be residents from all different areas, and not concentrated on disadvantaged patrons, or those with chronic behavioral issues.

“This has become a political issue, unfortunately,” she said. “And it really shouldn't be. This is a public health issue. Our public health experts are telling us that to control this virus and be able to go outside of your home, you need to wear a mask. Those who say that it's impossible for them to wear a mask, there are plenty of non-contact options available. Those who come into the library and willfully disregard (health rules) for no good reason, I have a big problem with, because they’re putting our staff and other customers at risk.”

In several incident reports provided to Arundel Journal, upset patrons appeared to have become short tempered with library staff, some claiming the requirement to wear a mask was “bullshit”. They seemed to find mask wearing oppressive both physically and on one occasion to their constitutional rights.

Another patron was quoted in the report as saying “I can’t take this. I am not a robot”

Though most indoor library use has been curtailed for now there are many options and programs remaining for the library’s use. Limited use of the library facility is planned for September 8, upon the making of an appointment.

Also, as of Monday, August 17, all 16 library locations will shift to a Curbside Plus model. Services offered include:

Increased hours for contactless curbside pickup

  • Monday – Thursday from 10 am to noon and 3-6 pm

  • Friday and Saturday from 10 am to noon and 2-4 pm

  • Sunday (starting September 13 at some branches) from 1-5 pm

  • Free wireless printing of up to 10 pages, per day, through the library’s website and SmartALEC app

  • Outdoor Wi-Fi at all library branches (except Riviera Beach and Discoveries: The Library at the Mall)

  • Telephone assistance for research, book recommendations and more

  • Virtual assistance from the Ask a Librarian email service, social media

  • More virtual program

Bookdrops remain open and staff are working to add more services including:

  • Appointments for browsing the stacks, using library computers and librarian assistance (Starting September 8)

  • Laptop checkouts with mobile hotspots (September)

  • Website chat for reference help, book recommendations (September)

  • Virtual assistance from a librarian via Zoom (September)

  • MedStar Mobile Health Center at Brooklyn Park Library on second and fourth Tuesdays of the month starting in September

  • Take and make craft kits

  • Book bundles

  • Outdoor activities

“We're looking forward to being able to offer library services to customers in a slightly modified way, but to still be able to serve their needs.” Feldmann said. “We're continuing to increase our virtual programs. We're getting more and more ebooks, audio books, added to our catalog all the time. So we're recognizing that folks can take advantage of our services from home or from anywhere.”