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Missoula library patrons will experience new features, but also pandemic limits

Posted at 7:11 AM, Aug 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-20 13:12:24-04

MISSOULA — Book lovers are chomping at the bit to use the new Missoula Public Library, and that should happen in September.

The first weeks at the new Missoula Public Library will involve more than just being considerate and quiet.

Contractors will have a lot of finishing work to do, and dozens of operational changes still have to be ironed out.

But the biggest challenge for reopening is coping with COVID-19.

"People should only be able to stay about an hour at a time because of exposure," Missoula Public Library Director Honore Bray said. "And to allow more people to come in."

There will even be traffic patterns to follow between shelves, contract tracing and sanitation.

"We will be handing out cards or something for when you sit down, we know you sat there and to be able to wash off the space after the person leaves," Bray said.

The guidelines come from the Missoula City-County Health Department but the library will also make accommodations for anyone worried about coming inside.

"Or if elderly people or anyone is afraid to come into the building because they don't want to be exposed at all to anything then curb service is a great thing for everybody," Bray said.

There is one aspect to the new library a lot of people are going to like even though you won't be able to see it for a while -- and it's going to make the process of borrowing and dropping off books even more efficient.

A state-of-the-art automated material handling system from Denmark can handle up to 2,000 books per hour, scooping up titles, scanning their bar codes and sorting into special electric carts.

The system will print receipts as books are dropped off, carrying them into the system on conveyor belts which you'll be able to watch through the glass, as books are handled not just for Missoula, but libraries across the state.

That means materials will be processed sooner, although again, with precautions to begin with.

"We have to quarantine materials," Bray said. "We were quarantining materials for three days. Research has shown now we need to quarantine for four days. So as things come back they get quarantined. Then they get checked in and then they can go back on the shelves."

Curbside deliveries are still limited through Aug. 27, but digital collections are still available.