Preparations are being made for a phased return of council library services across South Tyneside.
South Tyneside libraries closed in March in line with Government guidance to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Last month council libraries began to give users the opportunity to return library books safely using new drop off points set up across the Borough.
Now that the Government has advised that libraries can reopen from 4 July, South Tyneside Council is preparing to implement a three-stage reopening of its library services within The Word, Hebburn Central, Jarrow Focus and Cleadon Park Health and Wellbeing Centre,
Councillor Tracey Dixon, Deputy Leader of South Tyneside Council, said: "We know that people will have missed being able to visit their local library - whether that is for borrowing books, using our computer facilities or just talking to our incredible library staff. These staff have gone above and beyond while redeployed to our Covid 19 Support Hub, assisting some of our most vulnerable residents throughout the crisis.
"The priority for us is the safety of library users and staff, which means we will be operating our libraries in a different way over the coming weeks.
"We are taking a cautious, risk-assessed step-by-step approach to reopening libraries safely, with limited services and measures being put in place to make sure they are 'Covid secure', that they adhere to the latest social distancing guidelines and encourage good hygiene practices.
"This phased reopening process will take time and may be adjusted along the way as we continue to follow government guidance. However, it is a positive step towards some form of normality.
"We will be monitoring the situation very closely over the first few weeks of operation before looking at what additional measures, if any, may be needed. We thank library users for their patience, understanding and support as we work through this."
Libraries services will resume in three key stages at the Council's four main libraries, starting with an order and collect service.
From this Saturday (4 July), library users will be able to pre-order books over the phone for collection from Monday 6 July on a strict appointment-only basis. Libraries will operate with reduced operating hours, from 10am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, with normal hours on weekends.
All other public facilities, including toilets and cafes, will remain closed at this time, with visits restricted to the return and collection of books only.
In the second phase, towards the end of July, the ground floors of buildings will be opened up giving visitors pre-booked, time-limited, access to the libraries' public computers. And in Phase Three, in August, visitors will also have the opportunity to enjoy time-limited browsing of selected shelves, which will be emptied and cleaned at the end of the day.
Libraries will operate with:
- Strict occupancy limits of no more than 10 customers per half hour.
- There will be no open access facilities. All services will be accessed via manned reception points and on an appointment basis only.
- All books will be quarantined for 72 hours upon return.
- Strict social distancing rules will be observed.
This model will continue pending any changes in Government guidance.
Library users can still use the range of online services available, with 24-hour access to hundreds of ebooks, eAudiobooks and online magazines - all free to download. Library members can access the complete collection of eBooks in South Tyneside's Digital Library from their computers, eReaders, smart phones or tablets. They just need a valid library membership and pin number.
Those not already registered as library users, can also still sign up online and begin accessing the online services straightaway.
Councillor Dixon added: "Our digital library and home reader services have been a life line for many users during the coronavirus crisis, particularly among some of our most vulnerable residents, including those isolating and shielding.
"During the lockdown period alone, more than 2,350 people have continued to access these services, which is fantastic, and we are so pleased to have been able to continue supporting our communities in this way. We would encourage people to continue making use of our digital library as much as possible."
For further information about South Tyneside Libraries, or to join the library, visit www.southtyneside.gov.uk/libraries Keep up to date with South Tyneside Libraries on social media, on Facebook southtynesidelibraries and STynesideCouncil and on Twitter @SouthTyneLibs and @STyne_Council
Libraries can be contacted direct from Saturday 4 July by phone: The Word (0191) 427 1818; Hebburn Central: (0191) 424 7831; Jarrow Focus: (0191) 489 7786 and Cleadon Park: (0191) 424 6194.