Community, Library, Local, Organizations, Park Forest

Park Forest Library: Open for Business

The Park Forest Public Library is open.
Park Forest Library: Open for Business (Photo: John Hudzik)

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- The Park Forest Library is now fully reopened with all services available to patrons. That’s right, the library is open.

Barbara Osuch, Director of the Park Forest Library, stated that except for a few study rooms that will reopen soon, all library services, including fax services, photocopying, computer access, and general browsing, are now available.  The Park Forest Library Board, which had met virtually for the past year, held its first in-person board meeting at the library on July 15.

Osuch explained that, like many businesses and organizations, the library had to adapt to the various stages of the pandemic.  The library closed for all services on March 11, 2020, following the guidance from multiple library associations, the state, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  Nothing in Osuch’s seventeen years as the Director, or in the library’s 45-page disaster recovery plan, could have prepared her for the year to come.

For the next three months, the library was dark until it partially reopened in June, offering curbside services.  Patrons could request books online and pick up the books at the library without leaving their cars.

Rather than adding new materials to their collection, the library refocused many of its purchases during this period to materials that would be most helpful to children, such as crafts and picture books that families could keep.  Even fun items such as bubbles, jump ropes and journals (and, of course, hand sanitizer) were included in the take-home kits.

When the full-time library staff and specialists returned last June, their efforts focused on developing or expanding programs that could be done virtually.  The staff also used this “curbside only” time to weed the book collection and then hosted a book give-away event in the library parking lot.

In October, the library took its next step by opening its computer, fax, and photocopying services by appointment only.  The library maintained this “by appointment” and curbside operation until March of this year when it officially reopened for all services without the need for an appointment.  Curbside service continued to be offered as an available option.   

Per the village guidance, the use of masks while in the library is currently at the discretion of each patron.  Osuch notes, however, that most patrons still prefer to wear a mask when entering the library.

Like many businesses and schools, Osuch believes that the library will continue to operate in a hybrid mode for the foreseeable future as some patrons are not yet comfortable returning to pre-pandemic practices.  She notes that curbside pick-up is extremely convenient for families with children and also provides additional security for those with ongoing health concerns.

During the pandemic, the library greatly increased the number of programs that were offered virtually.  Osuch believes that these will continue given their popularity.  One popular program was Online Storytime with Ms. Nikki who read stories to children and is available on the library’s YouTube channel.  In addition, the library offers a selection of virtual discussion groups on a wide variety of topics. 

The library has been careful to follow the guidance of public health experts during the pandemic.  When curbside services were first introduced, the guidance was that all returned books were quarantined for 14-days before they were put back in circulation.  That period was then reduced to ten days, then seven, and then finally eliminated altogether as the fear of contagion from surface contact diminished.

The experience of the Park Forest Library was similar to that of other suburban libraries in the area.  Although Park Forest was more cautious in their reopening plans than other libraries, the library did have to close for 14 days in April when some staff members tested positive for COVID.  During this time even the curbside delivery option was suspended.

During the various stages of closures, the library did its best to maintain some degree of normalcy.  For example, the Life Ripples Book Club which began in 2015, meets at 12:30 pm on the third Saturday of the month.  During the pandemic, the group met for a while at Scrementi’s restaurant, and then when that location closed temporarily, the club began to meet outdoors until it was safe to return to the library.

One new aspect introduced by the library which Osuch believes many patrons will like is that the computers have now been moved from the center of the library to an enclosed room which greatly reduces the noise level.  The computer stations are currently six feet apart but with new socially distanced guidance of 3-feet, Osuch plans to increase the number of workstations available.  Also, the library will gradually expand the number of tables and seating locations available to accommodate the expected increase in traffic.

While the library is fully open, the number of patrons visiting each day is well below that seen prior to the pandemic.  Patrons typically come in for a specific purpose (book holds, computer access, or photocopying, for example) rather than to browse or read.  With schools returning to in-person classes this fall, Osuch is not sure how the library will be used, especially given that some parents may continue to prefer virtual learning options.

The library has also increased the level of cleaning that occurs to ensure that all surfaces are sanitized on a regular basis.  Osuch knows that patrons will have varying degrees of comfort about returning to the library, but she encourages all patrons to share their thoughts about how the library could better serve their needs and what could be done to make the library a more inviting location to visit.

While the library is currently not accepting book donations, Osuch recommends that patrons can take advantage of the numerous Little Free Libraries placed throughout the village.  In Park Forest, they can be found on Lakewood Boulevard next to the library, on Forest Boulevard across from the Police Station, and next to the Pace bus stop in Downtown Park Forest.  Residents can select a book to take home or leave a book that they would like to share with others.

The Park Forest Library is located at 400 Lakewood Boulevard and is open Monday through Thursday 10 AM to 7 PM, Friday and Saturday 10 AM to 5 PM.  Information on the library’s services and programs, including the virtual discussion groups, can be found on their website, in the flyer included with residents’ monthly water bills, or by calling 708-748-3731.

The upcoming August flyer for the Park Forest Library is above.