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Libraries across Minnesota expand in-person services as COVID pandemic wanes

Library locations in the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota are inching closer to normal.

After a year of minimal and modified operations due to COVID-19, some of the state's biggest library systems are reopening, moving closer to a resumption of normal services.

 “As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries are here for people to reconnect, learn, and find joy in being together in community with neighbors after a year in which distance has been the norm," said St. Paul Library Director Catherine Penkert in an announcement Wednesday.

That library system expanded open hours and the in-person services available at its 13 library locations across St. Paul this week, shifting resources away from virtual offerings toward more normal operations. Patrons can browse the collection without a time limit, meeting rooms are available (though a limited number), and visitors will find furniture and desks for seating.

The library also said "most library services will resume, including in-person events and programs, which will be held outdoors."

Masks are not required, but are encouraged for anyone who is not fully vaccinated. Social distancing is also still encouraged.  

Hennepin County libraries are in a similar spot. Visitor time limits are gone, and the plan was for most furniture to be reinstalled by June 8.

Masks are still required for everyone, per Hennepin County policy, and the libraries will maintain certain social distancing measures - not all furniture will be out, computer stations will be spaced apart, and meeting rooms will be available again June 21.

The only exceptions are the Osseo and St. Bonifacius libraries, which due to their small size are still only accepting returns.

In the Northland, Duluth Public Library opened to the public for in-person services Monday. Visitors can once again browse and check out books, use computers and printers, and simply sit. The children's play areas and in-person programming remain on hold for now, however. The library will continue to offer curbside pickup.

Many library locations that are part of the Arrowhead System have expanded services again, though often still with some restrictions or limitations. The system keeps an updated list here. Members of the Lake Agassiz Regional Library system have been doing the same in recent months.

Public libraries are widely viewed by Americans as valuable parts of the community, and as key sources of information, resources and education. COVID-19 presented challenging circumstances: 98% told the Public Library Association their buildings had been closed due to the pandemic.

Many responded by doing things like leaving the library's Wi-Fi access on even when facilities were shuttered, extending online renewal services and offering new virtual programming, the association said.

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