Central Library

Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library system will take a step toward reopening from the COVID-19 shutdown this week when it provides “limited public entry” at three locations.

Starting on Wednesday, November 4, the library will admit patrons who make appointments to use the public computers at the Southeast Anchor branch on Eastern Avenue; the Pennsylvania Avenue branch and the Central Library on Cathedral Street.

Under a gradual reopening process developed in coordination with other city agencies, patrons still won’t be allowed to browse the bookshelves or wander around the three buildings.

“As a quasi-city agency, library staff have been working closely with city and health officials for months to develop a safe way to serve our customers,” said Pratt Library President and CEO Heidi Daniel, in a message to patrons. “The City Safety Czar has now given us the green light for limited public entry.”

The Pratt’s central library and 21 branches have been closed since last spring to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Daniel said the library system has used the time that its buildings have been closed to prepare for a safe reopening in compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. It also has offered Sidewalk Service at 14 locations for contact-free book pickup and Drive-In Wi-Fi at eight locations.

The phased-in process is similar in some respects to the way the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum got ready to reopen in September, by adding hand sanitizing stations and requiring face masks.

“Public libraries serve some of our most vulnerable populations who may be more susceptible to illness,” Daniel said in her message. “Our spaces are built for close contact and collaboration. We’ve spent the past several months putting in safeguards like plexiglass barriers and hand sanitizing stations. Computer terminals have been moved to adhere to social distancing. Materials are being quarantined. We’ve reassigned and hired additional custodians so that cleaning can meet CDC standards. Our top priority is the health and safety of our customers and staff.”

Under the library’s guidelines for reopening, computer usage, printing and library card services will be the only activities available at the locations that open Wednesday.

Appointments are being made in 45-minute increments. Social distancing must be observed, and face coverings are required for the duration of the visit. Visitors will be asked health screening questions and get temperature checks.

Appointments to use the computers can be made by calling 410-396-5325 for the Central Library at 400 Cathedral Street; 410-396-0399 for the Pennsylvania Avenue branch at 1531 West North Avenue, and 443-984-3901 for the Southeast Anchor at 3601 Eastern Avenue.

Library cards are required to make a reservation. For patrons unable to call or reserve online, a small number of walk-in appointments will be available at the three locations, on a first-come, first-served basis.

In addition to the limited entry at the three locations, Daniel said, the Pratt will continue to provide Sidewalk Service at 14 locations, and its Books by Mail service is available for patrons in Baltimore City.

The Pratt system loans hotspots and tablets to customers who don’t have internet access at home. Programs such as book clubs, resume writing workshops and author talks are currently being run on Pratt’s virtual platforms.

The Southeast Anchor library is open today and tomorrow for early voting and the general election. Services at all Pratt locations will be closed on Tuesday in observance of Election Day.

Daniel said in her message that she hopes to expand appointments for limited entry to other library locations “in the coming weeks.”

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.