With schools shut for two weeks, Hawaii’s 51 public libraries remained a haven for local residents Monday, but it isn’t clear how long that will last.
Debbie Brown took her twin 11-year-olds to the main Hawaii State Library branch on King Street on a rainy Monday morning to stock up on books. Their family had planned a neighbor island trip for spring break, she said, but thought better of it in light of the new coronavirus.
“They’re here to get some resources to keep themselves busy during spring break,” Brown said as her boys pulled books from the shelves and piled them on a table. “I think we’ll just stay home and hunker down. So I said, ‘First stop, the library, before it shuts down.’”
Hawaii’s state librarian, Stacey Aldrich, said she and her staff are working out how best to provide services for the public and still keep people healthy and safe as the situation and official guidance keep evolving.
“We’re definitely taking the situation very seriously because we care very deeply about the community and the health and well-being of our patrons and staff,” Aldrich said. “We are in the process of working through all the logistics around the guidance from the governor and federal level.”
“We’ll be putting out more information, I’m sure, within the next days as far as some potential changes,” Aldrich told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “We’re really trying to be good stewards and figure out how can we best still provide services in this unprecedented situation.”
Patrons can still go to libraries to check out books and other items and to use the computers, but all programs and events at the libraries are canceled through the end of the month, including tech classes, story times, tax help, book clubs or other meetings.
About 30 people were waiting outside the main library branch when it opened at 10 a.m. Monday, and the computer stations immediately filled up, although much of the library was relatively deserted. The libraries have stepped up workplace cleaning and also have removed toys and other items that are hard to sanitize.
For people sequestered at home, a Hawaii public library card can open the door to a huge array of material online at librarieshawaii.org.
“We have ebooks, audiobooks you can download, we have magazines, you can read Oprah from home just using your library card,” Aldrich said. “You could learn a language with Mango Languages. You can go to PressReader and read newspapers from all over. We have a lot of services available.”
The library is also making life easier for patrons by automatically renewing books and other eligible items starting Monday. The policy excludes items that already have been renewed twice or are on hold for another patron as well as seven-day loans such as Hotpicks and DVDs.
The University of Hawaii’s libraries also remain open for now, helping ensure access to computer labs and other materials. UH will switch to online classes Monday, after spring break. Dorms remain open for students who have nowhere else to go.
“We are not closing our campuses at this time,” President David Lassner wrote in an email to the UH community Monday. “We are hopeful that through careful mitigation and diligent personal hygienic practices Hawaii can avoid the kind of total shutdown that has been necessary in other parts of the world.”
He also said the university is looking into options for employees to voluntarily work from home “while keeping offices open and ensuring continuity of operations and services.”
UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said students can visit the library, but not in groups, and still maintain social distancing.
“This is an unprecedented, quickly evolving health crisis,” Meisenzahl added. “Everything is subject to change at a moment’s notice.”
YMCA of Honolulu facilities also continued to operate, including exercise, part-time preschool, year-round youth and teen programs and swim lessons, as well as Spring Day Camps and Teen Programs.
To help people who are at home stay healthy and fit, the YMCA is also offering free access for a limited time to online group exercise classes including yoga, boot camp and exercise for older adults.
However, with public schools closed for two weeks, the YMCA’s A+ After School and Before School programs, ASP and Club-Mid After School programs are suspended.