Downtown Victoria library gearing up to reopen for pickups

Greater Victoria residents will have access to new reading materials next month, as the central branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library gets ready to open for pickups in mid to late June.

Once it’s reopened, library users will be able to place holds and pick up books from outside the downtown branch at 735 Broughton St. during a four-hour window Monday to Saturday.

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While other branches will remain closed to library users, patrons can place holds on any books within the library’s system. Materials from other branches will be transferred to the central branch for pickup.

There will also be a small “pop-up library” of curated materials available on the spot for borrowing, said CEO Maureen Sawa.

The collection will be based on what library staff know is popular and current, including children’s picture books, which are in high demand, Sawa said.

A firm opening date has not been set, but the central branch is expected to resume hold pickups by the end of June. The library will provide two weeks’ notice online before opening the doors.

During the first phase of reopening, three additional branches — Emily Carr, Langford Heritage and James Bay — will accept returns through an automated process that allows contactless returns.

Three more branches will open in July and another three in August for library users to pick up material on hold, return books and browse pop-up collections.

The six branches set to reopen during the summer are Saanich Centennial, Central Saanich, Juan de Fuca, Oak Bay, James Bay and Bruce Hutchison. The reopening dates will be announced two weeks before they resume service.

The branches were chosen because they are spread throughout the 10 communities served by the library system and have enough space inside for staff and outside to accommodate library users coming and going, Sawa said.

The remaining five branches will be assessed in June and July to determine the next steps.

Figuring out how to safely resume outside pickup and return services is complex, because the library system is heavily used, Sawa said. Materials will be quarantined for 72 hours after returns and transfers between branches.

“We have 100,000 active library-card users, so once we open something up, it’s going to be very concentrated. So we need to make sure that we don’t set something up that is not manageable,” Sawa said.

This month, layoff notices were issued to 168 regular and auxiliary Greater Victoria Public Library employees who have been on paid leave since the system’s 12 branches closed on March 16 due to COVID-19 concerns.

Staff at the central branch will be recalled as the library resumes service in June, Sawa said.

Service updates, including reopening dates, will be posted to the library system’s website at gvpl.ca.

Vancouver Island Regional Library plans to start curbside pickup and returns at some locations next week, although decisions have not been made on specific opening dates and which branches will be first to open, spokesman David Carson said in an email. The library service will likely provide more information early next week.

Materials will not be transferred between branches for the time being, so books will be limited to what’s available at an individual branch.

Items will be quarantined for 72 hours between loans.

Vancouver Island Regional Library has 38 branches on the Island outside of Greater Victoria.

The B.C. government included libraries in a list of services that could reopen during Phase 2 of the province’s plan to restart the economy, which began on May 19.

Many libraries have been making plans to reopen or have already resumed service. North Vancouver District Public Library, which has three branches, has been offering curbside pickup of books since late April.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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