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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Bellingham Public Library near reopening

Following a remodel of the Central branch, the library aims to reopen in late spring

The newly remodeled main entrance of the Bellingham Public Library. The Central branch aims to reopen late spring 2021. // Photo courtesy of Bellingham Public Library.
The newly remodeled main entrance of the Bellingham Public Library. The Central branch aims to reopen in late spring 2021. // Photo courtesy of Bellingham Public Library

By Clay Wren

Bellingham Public Library is set to open the doors of its Central branch in late spring, after a remodel of its main floor.

When patrons return, seating will not be available at first, per guidance from the governor’s office. The library is limited to 50% capacity and one-hour visits. 

“We have very conservatively estimated that at 50% capacity, we can have 50 visitors [not including staff] at one time,” said Annette Bagley, head of community relations at Bellingham Public Library.

Bagley said that patrons have been vocal about wanting to return to the library, but also continuing the popular curbside pickup service. As such, the library will likely see a hybrid model, with separate hours for curbside pickup and in-person visitation, to ease the workload on staff.

Construction began on a remodel of the main floor of the library in July 2020, by RMC Architects and Tiger Construction. The last remodel of the building was completed in 1985.

Bagley said that the remodel has gone through several iterations in planning and has been in the pipeline for at least 15 years. The construction and pandemic timing were coincidence.

Between 2000 and 2008, an entire new building was planned to replace the library, but those plans were scrapped because of the 2008 financial crisis. Architects were hired in 2018 to do space planning, and the budget was allocated by the City of Bellingham in their biannual 2019/2020 budget.

The design philosophies behind the remodel were to make public services more physically accessible and technologically friendly.

“You are going to see a much more open floor plan,” Bagley said.

From the new main entrance, book stacks are more visible, and the computer area is more immediately accessible. Two restrooms were added upstairs, along with an additional study room and a new elevator.

Tables and seating areas were designed to accommodate electronic devices, similar to an airport. Bagley said that it was very important to expand the technological capabilities of the library to fit the needs of the community.

“The way that people use the library now is very different than it was in 1985. Now, people bring their devices into the library and they want to plug them in and have places to use them,” Bagley said.

Curbside pickup services began in March 2020 and continued throughout the remodel. Curbside pickup was launched as a way for patrons to pick up materials safely without entering the building, which closed four months early due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Around 2,000 appointments are made per week, which can often mean 12,000 or more materials picked up.

Until recently, the entire curbside process existed on the lower level to work around the remodel. Books and objects were moved out of the children’s library to make room for the curbside pickup workspace, dubbed by staff as “Santa’s workshop.”

Dubbed “Santa’s workshop” the children’s area of the library has been converted into a hubbub for fulfilling curbside pickup orders. // Photo courtesy of Bellingham Public Library.
Dubbed “Santa’s workshop” the children’s area of the library has been converted into a hubbub for fulfilling curbside pickup orders. // Photo courtesy of Bellingham Public Library

Kimber Langton is a Bellingham resident who uses the curbside pickup service around once a week. She thanked the service for enabling her to continue her reading and learning journey and their commitment to inclusivity.

Langton said that she continually searches for ways to educate herself on racial justice, something that the library has fostered through their book talks and featured recommendations on their Facebook page.

“I can’t wait until it’s safe to get back into the library and check it out,” Langton said.

Emily Keller is a University of Washington librarian and Washington Library Association board member. She said that the COVID-19 pandemic posed unique challenges for librarians around the country, to fit the needs of their different communities.

“It’s been really inspiring to see the ways that libraries have had to innovate and find ways to change the way that we did things so that we could serve people as well as we could,” Keller said.

Keller said when libraries closed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tools and services they provided to communities were stripped away. People who aren’t housed were unable to find a safe place to visit during the day, and the lack of a space for internet access posed a problem for students in virtual school.

Solutions around the country included drive-up Wi-Fi, virtual programs, curbside pickup, food distribution and remote learning without an internet connection. 

Keller said that libraries foster educational and career development. Libraries offer programs for job readiness, including writing cover letters and resumes. 

“From birth to death, we are all learning, and libraries support that,” Keller said.

Clay Wren is a third-year finance major and journalism minor who uncovers the hidden stories of Bellingham. He can be reached any time at wrenc2@wwu.edu.

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