Unmasked patrons a problem at Amherst’s Jones Library

  • Patrons enter the Jones Library in Amherst on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/15/2021 4:17:43 PM
Modified: 12/15/2021 4:17:08 PM

AMHERST — A move toward returning to normal operations continues at the Jones Library, even as staff members are finding that some patrons are not on board with the townwide requirement to wear masks in indoor public settings.

At the library trustees meeting Monday, Library Director Sharon Sharry said the mask mandate remains a lingering challenge, with some people not willing to properly wear masks while in the building.

Sharry said there are frequent offenders, and people who need regular reminders, and that staff is getting in response an increasing number of dirty looks and sometimes worse.

“Staff are being sworn at,” Sharry said.

To counter this problem, the library may soon involve the town’s team of COVID ambassadors. The ambassadors would be doing daily sweeps through the building and reminding people who don’t have the masks covering their mouths and noses the proper way to wear them.

The ambassadors are part of a paid program, initiated by the town in August 2020, to speak to people about ways they can best protect themselves and others during the pandemic. Most of the ambassadors are local college students.

Austin Sarat, president of the trustees, said there is risk of the main branch closing if protocols are not followed. “We want to make sure the library is a safe space and no one is exposed unnecessarily,” Sarat said.

Sarat said the trustees could revise existing policies, though there are already signs at the entrance and in the building about the mask requirement.

Sharry isn’t sure that more enforcement will work. “Most of those people are just not gonna,” Sharry said.

Some of the problems develop because the library remains welcoming to people who depend on the homeless shelter, and Sharry said people who fall asleep seem to be more likely to have their masks off than the many people who still come to the library briefly to pick up books and other materials they are checking out.

Library trustee Alex Lefebvre said pressing trespassing charges is an option, but the preference is to not go in that direction.

Lefebvre added that the hope also has been to use staff from the new Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service program the town is launching to deal with this compliance issue.

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

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