The four branches of the Cherokee Regional Library System (CHRL) have reopened to the public with limited hours and new restrictions in the wake of COVID-19.
The system closed seven weeks ago in a regional effort to slow the spread of the virus. CHRL is the first library system in Georgia to reopen, with branches in Chickamauga, LaFayette, Rossville and Dade County now operating three days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
While the library’s robust digital services have been available during the seven-week closure, many patrons felt the absence of physical services such as access to real books and computers, along with printing and scanning services.
“Smart phones are not always sufficient to conduct business,” said Cherokee Regional Library Director Lecia Eubanks, “and governmental websites are notoriously difficult to navigate. We have heard of community members struggling to access their stimulus money, or present proper documentation after being affected by recent storm damage. The library is a needed resource. With the restrictions we have in place, we can reopen safely.”
Library staff at all four branches spent time preparing to reopen. Along with sneeze guards installed at the circulation desk, patrons will notice signage guiding them to remain six feet apart. All library staff are required to wear protective masks, while patrons are strongly encouraged to wear a mask too. Staff will clean heavily used surfaces every hour and only a limited number of computers will be available, so keyboards can be sanitized.
Regular programming remains on hold at this time. The library intends to re-evaluate operations every two weeks, before moving to the next phase of reopening. Eventually, hours will return to normal, and actually increase at some locations.
“I see the value of the investment and positive impact the library has on our citizens,” said Shannon Whitfield, Walker County commissioner. “From 2009 to 2017, the library system did not receive any additional funding from Walker County. We’ve been working to restore services, like the library, as our county’s finances improve.”
Whitfield added, “Walker County will provide an additional $44,000 to CHRL this year. The move brings the county’s total increase in investment over the past three years to nearly $100,000.”
Due to the additional funding, all three Walker County Public Libraries will be capable of expanding hours and services effective July 1. The Chickamauga and Rossville branches will increase operations to 40 hours a week and provide the public with an additional day of access. The Shaw History Room in the LaFayette-Walker County branch has only been open two days a week since 2012. It will soon expand to six days a week.
Curbside pick-up services have been implemented for those who prefer to not come inside. Patrons are encouraged to put a hold on books through the PINES app and then call the library to have materials brought to their vehicle.