Public Library faces mask-wearing resistance, Looks to enhance outdoor options

The communications manager for the Anne Arundel County Public Library said that staff have had had to confront some resistance to the mask-wearing requirement at local libraries. Nonetheless they are moving forward to produce more outdoor library options, as well as increasing efforts to support families with their virtual learning needs next semester. Communications Manager Christine Feldmann said the reasons patrons have given for not wanting to wear a mask in an effort to prevent the transmission of the COVID-19 disease varies. But the end result is more stress on all involved, including the staff who have to combine normal duties with mask monitoring. "It runs the gamut of people who don't believe in the virus people, who don't want to wear a mask because it's physically uncomfortable,” she said. “It's really all over the map. But the reality is, we require a mask and we require a mask the entire time that you're in the library, And it needs to be worn properly or we’re going to tell you that you need to leave. It’s just not safe.” Feldmann said there have been seven occasions in the county’s library system that have escalated to staff filling out an incident report since the library reopened in early July. Two incidents resulted in local law enforcement responding. “They're (library staff) really good at deescalating situations. dealing with people who may be upset, but there comes a point where it's not safe for them to continue to do that,” Feldmann explained. “And so we have to call in law enforcement. "The staff are spending an incredible amount of time monitoring and ensuring that people are wearing masks and social distancing properly,” she said. “That is more disruptive than anything else.” Though there’s been conflict with some patrons, the library is moving forward with serving its community with new services. It is looking to procure more Wi-Fi hotspots. The current devices usually get checked out as soon as they come in. Feldmann said the library is seeking to build its supply of the devices to help put a dent in the very high demand. Currently the library has 150 Wi-Fi hotspots, with 175 people on the waitlist. “They're fairly inexpensive to purchase,” she said. “But there's the constant data cost ,subscription fee and the replacement costs.” They are also considering purchasing laptop computers for patrons to take out. And they are adding outdoor Wi-Fi to more of their buildings so that patrons may be able to sit in the parking lot and use the free Wi-Fi. “I think we're up to six (outdoor Wi-Fi locations) at this point, so that folks can use our WiFi in the parking lots even when we're not open for that,” Feldmann said. “That's an enhancement that we're able to offer people.” The fall school semester is quickly approaching and the library is working to support the school system’s students and families with virtual learning. “Given that many are going to be e-learning from home how can we help those families with our resources to manage the e-learning process?,” Feldmann asked. “That's a big part of what we're working on right now. “ The library already makes a free online tutoring service available to students from kindergarten though college. It is available from noon through midnight every day of the year, she said. The service is called Brainfuse. She described the service. “These are trained educators who are available to walk kids and parents through school exercises and different concepts,” Feldmann explained. “Basically, you can share your screen. That's one of our biggest resources for families.” Making its programming responsive to the issues of the day the library also is sponsoring a virtual presentation Monday, August 10, on Zoom, in partnership with the Anne Arundel County school system, and the nonprofit Kindness Grows Here. The presentation is expected to discuss ways parents might want to address the subject of race with their children. One hundred people have already signed up, Feldmann said, and there is room for 500. Also now under consideration at the library is the creation of am outdoor drive-in movie program at certain physical locations, Feldmann said. "We are thinking about some outdoor programs in some of our branches that have a lot of space outdoors, particularly like the Crofton library," she said. "So how can we hold programs ,potentially something like a drive in movie? How can we use our outdoor space to get people to come to the library for programs in a safe way?"