When Governor Jay Inslee announced earlier this month that he was loosening several Safe Start reopening guidelines, including those impacting libraries, the news caught Camas Public Library staff off-guard.
“It was unexpected,” said Camas library director Connie Urquhart. “We had maybe 24 hours’ notice.”
Unfortunately, the governor’s Oct. 6 announcement, which allowed libraries in Phase 2 counties to reopen some indoor activities at 25 percent capacity, came at exactly the wrong time for Urquhart and her staff.
“The timing is so unfortunate because we can’t open just yet,” Urquhart said.
That’s because the Camas library is still cleaning up from a mid-September storm that caused flooding throughout downtown Camas and, according to Urquhart, “caused significant damage to (the library’s) basement” where library staff stored old copies of the Camas-Washougal Post-Record, book club kits and hundreds of donations for the library’s annual book sale fundraiser.
Urquhart said library staff still don’t know the extent of the water damage to the newspapers and donated books, since they’ve been waiting for an outside company to complete its remediation work on the basement rooms.
“We had up to six inches of water. And, because the water came off the street, we had to do an environmental (assessment) and go through the proper channels to go through the restoration process,” Urquhart explained. “We haven’t even had a chance to go through (the boxes) and see what’s ruined and what’s good.”
Urquhart said the library has had some “very slight, insignificant” flooding in its basement before, but that the Sept. 18 storm, which dumped several inches of rain in a very short timespan, overwhelmed the library, as well as other low-lying spots in the city’s historic downtown.
“It was a lot of rain all at once,” Urquhart said. “The basement floors were damaged and some of the walls need to be replaced … but it wasn’t as significant as what some other downtown businesses experienced.”
Urquhart does not yet have a cost estimate for the needed repairs, but said the remediation company should have its work completed in three to four weeks.
“We are hoping to open in November,” Urquhart said.
Library staff have been prepping for a return to indoor services for months, Urquhart said, and feel ready to welcome patrons back inside the library in the safest manner possible.
“We’re calling ourselves ‘Camas Library Express’ when we reopen,” Urquhart said. “We want to offer as many services as we can but still be safe for our patrons and our staff.”
The library will continue to offer its curbside pickup services and will add “pre-check” tables inside, where patrons who have already checked out library materials online can come inside and “check in and check out” quickly.
For patrons who want to browse the library’s shelves, the library is able to host a total of 23 patrons at one time, but cloth face coverings and physical distancing will be required. For those who do not want to, or cannot, wear a face covering, library staff can bring materials outside the library to them.
Patrons will be able to return books inside during the “Camas Library Express” phase, and the library’s computers — now spaced 6 feet apart — will be available to patrons.
“Something you won’t see are chairs, except for the ones at the computers,” Urquhart said. “We’re not ready for people to get comfortable and stay a long time. We want people to enjoy the library but to come in and make sure they leave time for others to enjoy the library as well.”
Staff will implement several COVID-safety precautions, such as sanitizing and cleaning the communal areas inside the library, helping people with computer problems via a remote connection and offering self-checkout stands and an automated materials handler that allows patrons to return books without coming in contact with a staff member.
Urquhart said the library’s upstairs meetings rooms, as well as the Second Story Gallery, will remain closed during the limited Phase 2 reopening. Those spaces will not open until Clark County enters Phase 3 of Washington’s Safe Start reopening plan.
To learn more about the pending reopening of the Camas library, visit cityofcamas.us/camaspubliclibrary.