NAZARETH, Pa. (WLVT) - It's a new chapter at Memorial Library of Nazareth & Vicinity. The beloved regional library reopened last week after being closed for four months.
"This is our family. This community is our family," said executive director Holly Bennett. "I can't express to you how happy we were to see people again, and they were so excited to see us."
"We have some [visitors] that we worried about during this, because they live alone," added assistant director Catherine Stewart. "They maybe don't have a computer. They came to the library to use our computers. So, it was nice to see them back."
So far, 2020 has proven to be a challenging year for libraries, even more so for Memorial. Last year, Upper Nazareth Township cut its library budget in half. That prompted the library to reduce staff, cut programs and shorten hours of operation.
"We were in the middle of going through all those changes, and then, when we hit the middle of March, we were faced with a whole new set of challenges," Bennett said.
In the midst of the pandemic, the library received some good news. In the state's primary election last month, voters in Upper Nazareth Township approved a new tax that will provide library funding. Official results from Northampton County show 54 percent voted in favor of the referendum.
"The timing of this was very tricky, but I think the voice that was heard through the vote stands to say that this library is valued extremely highly in Nazareth," Bennett said. "We were really thrilled, in terms of their voice really supporting the mission of this organization to provide and support everyday literacy -- whether it's financial, basic literacy of reading for children, seniors helping individuals find jobs or helping them with technology."
When the library was closed, staff came up with different ways to reach out to the community. In addition to curbside pickup, the library posted programming online -- from STEM education and book readings to the popular "Story Time" and "Shake and Boogie" classes.
"It's been quite an experience," Stewart said. "It's very difficult to do when you're doing an interactive program by yourself, and you're not exactly sure how many people are watching you [and] who's watching you. So, it is a little challenging."
Once Northampton County entered the green phase of reopening, Bennett said the library took its time.
"We certainly wanted to provide an environment that we knew would be safe to everybody," she said. "We did not want to be the organization that someone got sick at, especially with the services we provide. That was extremely important to us."
The library has limited capacity and has restricted physical access to materials. Early bird hours give seniors and those with high-risk health issues time to use the library -- and cleaning is constant.
"The virus can live on the cover of plastic books for at least a 72-hour period. So, every book that goes out comes back and is quarantined," Bennett said. "It is quarantined, and then is safely wiped down, so that there is no chance that there is any transmission of the COVID virus."
As Pennsylvania sees a rise in cases, the future is unclear, including questions about possibly closing again and whether the library will face another budget shortfall.
"It's been such a turbulent time for us as a library," Bennett said. "I like to think optimistically. I'd love to have hope. I do think we have to approach the next few months very cautiously, so that we do keep everybody safe."
"The library will hopefully always be here," Stewart added, "and hopefully, we'll always be here to serve our community...however that works out in the future."