For Kim Brown, it felt like a community member died when the Newberry Branch of the Alachua County Library District closed March 15 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It brought my world to a halt,” she said. “It was like the world ended. I never realized how much I needed that library until it was gone.”
The Newberry resident said she visited the branch five days a week. She said she tutored children and needed to use the library to print and download images.
However, for the past four months, she didn’t have access to that essential space. She finally returned Monday. Brown said she felt safe when seeing familiar faces.
“I felt like I could sleep there,” she said. “That’s how safe it was. At one point, I took off my mask, and Marlin [the branch manager] right away told me to put it back on.”
The ACLD reopened all its locations for computer and copier use, according to its website.
Residents need to schedule an appointment to come in, ACLD Spokesperson Rachel Cook wrote in an email. One-hour appointments are available Monday through Saturday at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Fifteen-minute copier appointments are available from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. from Monday through Saturday. Walk-in appointments are available as well.
Patrons who wish to use the computer and copier machines must complete a health screening, wear a face covering and maintain six feet of social distancing, Cook wrote. The change stems from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order allowing libraries across the state to reopen at 50 percent capacity on May 18. However, Cook wrote that ALCD took reopening slowly to protect the health of its employees and patrons.
She also added that she doesn’t have an exact date for when the libraries can fully reopen and host events.
ACLD previously started a curbside service at all branches in May, allowing visitors to check out books and sign up and renew their library cards. More than 120,000 items have been checked out, Cook wrote.
When Brown heard about reopening on the news, she didn’t know it was for residents. She went to the library branch and was told to make an appointment.
“When I got there, I was the only one there, and I was so excited, I could have kissed the floor,” Brown said.
Brown told her family and friends that the library reopened, and they made appointments as well. Almost everyone in the community relies on the library, Brown said.
“Out here in Newberry, we don’t have access to that kind of thing where you can go in and do everything you need, and the staff is just phenomenal,” she said.
To Brown, the library is a community space. The ACLD normally puts on events, and the library is a space for children and the elderly, she added.
Library staff can also help residents with their electronic benefit transfer checks and taxes, as well as being able to sign papers, she said. She added that many people in Newberry don’t have cars and can’t travel to Gainesville for these services.
Newberry’s library isn’t alone in terms of patron traffic. Cook said 1.3 million people visited the Alachua County libraries in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
“We logged more than 216,000 hours of public computer use and nearly 451,000 Wi-Fi connections,” Cook wrote in an email.
Cook also wrote that the system holds programs that help adults improve their reading skills as well as a conference and job fair every Spring.
“The conference and job fair is for people with criminal backgrounds who struggle entering the workforce, ” she wrote. It includes sessions on starting a business, applying for jobs and accessing education.
Cook wrote that the event was canceled this year because of the pandemic, but Brown hopes that the events that the library hosts can start soon.
“The children look forward to those events, but, on the flip side, we got to make everyone comfortable,” Brown said.
Aside from curbside pickup and the computer and copier appointments, the library district has planned virtual events and increased its collection of eBooks and audiobooks, Cook wrote.
During the closure, the Newberry branch updated its new computers and printers, Brown said.
“On a scale of one to 10, it was a 15,” Brown said. “When I saw the new updates, I really went ham.”
Brown reflected on the library’s reopening.
“I just wanted to hug everyone, I told them [the library staff], ‘guys, I’m almost in tears. Everything is working so well,’” she said. “I just love this library, and I’m so happy it’s back.”