The library has always been a quiet place, but it has never been completely silent, that is, until 2020 rolled around. For a long, lonely year, the stacks have sat unbrowsed, and the books have remained idle in their well-ordered positions.
But this summer, the Austin Public Library system will be dusting off the shelves and opening its doors to the public, inviting Austinites to enjoy many of the long-missed spaces and amenities once again.
A handful of locations – Central, Carver, Hampton Branch at Oak Hill, Manchaca, Milwood, North Village, Old Quarry, Ruiz, Spicewood Springs, St. John, Windsor Park, and Yarborough – will lead the reopening effort on May 10, and safety measures will still be implemented and enforced. Mask wearing will continue to be required, and redesigned seating arrangements will ensure six feet of space between patrons. Other accommodations, like safety glass and newfangled HVAC systems (complete with bipolar ionization equipment), will also help protect the health and safety of library-goers. APL plans to open all branches on June 28.
While this move is bound to excite bookworms and recreational browsers across the city, it is worth noting that the decision will also aid Austin’s vaccination effort. By reinstating access to public computers and internet resources, libraries will significantly increase opportunities for individuals to access Covid-19 vaccine information and secure appointments. Public technology services also play a key role in connecting individuals to critical social support networks, including many forms of government assistance, which will decrease barriers to these helpful programs.
In addition, the libraries will be bringing back services such as printing and copying, material browsing, library card registration, and reference help. Newer offerings implemented during the pandemic – like curbside pick up – will remain in operation for those who prefer a contactless experience.
Reopening the city’s libraries demonstrates a hopeful step in the process of reintegrating into a more “normal” version of city life. The Austin Public Library system is eager to welcome back community members, but when you visit, remember to use your inside voice; we know that a year in quarantine has given you plenty of time to practice.