Amherst branch libraries cut capacity in half

  • The North Amherst Library garden. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/19/2022 11:16:18 AM
Modified: 1/19/2022 11:15:13 AM

AMHERST — Capacity is being reduced at Amherst’s two branch libraries, Munson Memorial and North Amherst, due to the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

Trustees for the Jones Library Wednesday voted unanimously to cut the capacity in half at both buildings, meaning that, effectively immediately, just nine patrons at a time can be inside the buildings.

Library Director Sharon Sharry said the request for the capacity limits comes following input from Health Director Jennifer Brown, who is concerned about “clumping” of individuals in the small buildings. In addition, Sharry got input from those who work at the buildings worried that people are unable to stay apart by at least six feet.

“It’s starting to freak out the staff,” Sharry said. 

Sharry said operations are unlikely to be impacted. “Normally, it’s under that number anyways,” Sharry said. 

Still, trustees asked what would happen if people are forced to wait outside and queue up to get into the libraries. In that case, Sharry said staff would encourage a hastening of people checking out materials and getting them on their way. Munson also continues to have a drive-through window for patrons not comfortable going inside.

Tamson Ely, who said she has been a patron of Munson for 40 years, couldn’t recall the library ever being too busy. 

“I think nine is fine,” Ely said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than nine at one time.”

Sharry will be able to lift the capacity limit without further action by trustees, adding that she hopes capacity restrictions won’t be needed beyond March.

The end of March is also when the North Amherst site will be closing as an expansion project that will add a community room, two bathrooms and a wheelchair lift gets underway. That is being supported by an anonymous donor who could give the town up to $1.15 million to complete the work. Staff will be relocated at that time, along with some materials.

That also marks the beginning of what Sharry calls a “weird time” for the public library system. The current plan is to have the North Amherst branch close through September, when the building project is complete, with normalcy returning only through February 2023.

In March 2023, the two-year, $36.3 million project to expand and renovate the Jones Library, supported by a 65% vote of residents in November, gets underway. Sharry told trustees that the main library will operate out of interim spaces, yet to be identified, until March 2025.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

 


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