Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, ‘Heart of the community,’ remains prominent after reopening

By Alex Reich
Scott Davis, a local Corvallis community member, browses through Corvallis-Benton County Public Library’s catalog of literature on Wednesday, July 28th. The CBCPL has now reopened to the public, and requires masks inside their buildings, except for patrons 5 and under.  

Cara Nixon, News Contributor

Molly Larson Cook, a patron of the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, said she always tells people she was raised by librarians. 

Cook’s parents aren’t really librarians, but as someone who moved a lot as a child, Cook has always considered libraries as her home base and integral to her personal community. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, her relationship with the library didn’t change.

“While the library was closed for inside activities during the pandemic, the services they provided ‘kept the lights on’ for me, and I made good use of them, reserving books and DVDs regularly,” Cook said in an email. “Libraries are a great gift to any community, and we are fortunate to have the Corvallis Library as a hub for our work, our social lives and our intellect.”

Now, the CBCPL has officially reopened to the public as of late July, and Library Director Ashlee Chavez said the positive response has been overwhelming. 

With the local library considered as a community staple, Chavez said there have been tears of joy from patrons as they leave the building with armfuls of books. 

During the pandemic, the library implemented a delivery service for the community, allowing patrons to order books and movies and have these delivered to their home. With this service, the library was making over 2,000 deliveries per week, according to Chavez. Beginning in June, CBCPL was able to begin Browse and Go services, which gave community members the chance to browse books and movies, self-checkout and then leave the building. 

Chavez said the library was able to reopen recently by adhering to measures provided by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Oregon Health Authority. 

“The decision to open fully beyond Browse and Go services was easy; we simply followed the guidance from OHA when they lifted all restrictions for retail services (libraries are considered part of the retail category, with some additional restrictions for youth programming),” Chavez said in an email. 

Though they initially reopened without COVID-19 restrictions, the library is now requiring masks inside their buildings, except for patrons five and under. 

The pandemic made things difficult for the CBCPL, for both patrons and employees, according to Chavez. 

“Libraries are typically the heart of a community, and during a crisis, it is the place people come for assistance and to find unity with their fellow community members,” Chavez said. “I think for all library workers, this was the first time an emergency led to a long closure, and it required a completely new mindset.”

Though CBCPL worked hard to provide multiple library services to the community during the pandemic, Chavez said there were some amenities that couldn’t be safely altered or replaced. 

“We did our best to find creative ways to offer services to patrons, but ultimately we know that not being able to offer a safe space for people to spend the day was the one thing we could not find a way to augment with our new services,” Chavez said. 

CBCPL did have a small computer lab for use by drop-in or appointment, Wi-Fi hotspots and Chromebooks for the community during the closure. The library’s parking garage was also used as a donation drop-off point twice: once for personal protective equipment and another time for wildfire relief supplies. Additionally, the library printed face shields for the community using its 3D printer and created a way for all students to receive a library card online. 

“In my mind, there were services we used to provide that we could not during the pandemic, but there were shifting needs and priorities and we began to offer services we never had in the past,” Chavez said. “What we did not offer was offset by what we did, and other providers stepped in to cover the gaps of what we couldn’t offer. It was a true, collaborative community effort, and one I am proud we were a part of.”

Paul Shaffer, Corvallis city councilor for Ward 7 and a CBCPL patron, said he was proud of the library before the pandemic, but became even more impressed as it adapted to the restrictions of COVID-19. 

“I have the utmost respect and appreciation for Director Chavez and for all the library staff for what they have accomplished during the COVID-19 era,” Shaffer said in an email. “At a time when many services declined or disappeared, they had great ideas, effective implementation and provided great service to the public.”

Shaffer said he was most impressed by CBCPL’s delivery services, which he used weekly.

“As an avid reader spending more time at home than normal, I was hungry for books but cut off from them,” Shaffer explained. “Delivery service kept me reading. I’ve had a few dozen deliveries; I’m sure others have had more. I have talked to people whose families were getting dozens of books in a single delivery. It’s pretty amazing that they were able to organize and to routinely pull, sort and deliver so many books, CDs, etc. to so many people throughout Benton County.”

Marfa Levine, a CBCPL patron, said she consistently took advantage of these library services during the pandemic. 

“I am so grateful for the way our library navigated all the protocols for COVID-19 to keep staff and all of us safe while providing its invaluable services,” Levine said in an email. “Staying home didn’t keep us from enjoying books and DVDs, thanks to the library staff’s ingenuity and work. Those books and DVDs sustain us, especially during trying times such as these.”

Mary Susan Pachuta, another patron of the library, only cried once during the year 2020 when passing by CBCPL and reading a sign in the window that read, “We miss you!”

“As many others do, I rely on our amazing library to be there; for the amazing staff to be there; for the grounding and sense of community it provides to be there; for the nourishment of seeing and hearing children and young parents and oldsters (like me!) chatting, learning, asking, seeking, sitting, dreaming, working [and] growing to be there; [and] for the hopefulness and potential it represents to be there…and now it is!” Pachuta said in an email. 

Chavez said the most exciting part of reopening has been seeing the joy on patrons’ faces as they return to the library, but she also knows the pandemic isn’t over yet and staff will have to continue thinking creatively. 

“It would be short-sighted of us to think we haven’t learned anything new during the pandemic,” Chavez said. “We have always had a model that is centered around community needs and listening to patron input. We look forward to seeing how library use evolves in the coming years—in the meantime, we continue to offer delivery services as we know this is something our community needs right now.”

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