On Monday (Jan. 3) the Cottage Grove Public Library reopened to the public once again, this time fully staffed and back to its full-time hours.
The library has endured a seesawing of operating hours and staff availability since 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions and eventually remodeling construction.
“Being back to full staff is really helpful,” said Head Librarian Natasha Chitow with some relief.
Last year, the library was staffed by only Chitow and a youth services librarian.
Though closed for most of the pandemic, in April 2021, Chitow found a workaround by instituting an inaugural Library in the Park event, which once a week offered books, children’s activity kits and a “storywalk” through Bohemia Park.
Chitow is planning on bringing the events back this summer as well.
The library finally reopened to the public on Aug. 2 last year for five hours a day, but was soon restricted again to a two-hour window due to the spread of the Delta variant.
It closed down again for winter break, though this time with an opportunity on hand for a bit of renovation.
“It gave painters a chance to paint but it also gave us a chance to take everything off every single wall that got painted,” said Chitow. “So that was a Herculean task that I’m really amazed at how quickly it got done.”
In the city’s 2021-22 budget, the library was allocated four FTE (full-time equivalent) positions, but it wasn’t until recently it was finally able to fill those roles.
With new staff also comes the chance for dialogue about the future of the library.
“[We can] get some ideas and brainstorm for how we’re going to reintroduce programs and also just reforming what the culture of our library looks like,” said Chitow.
Two full-time employees are now taking on youth services “because, for birth to 18, that’s a lot,” Chitow explained. “You know, there’s a lot of developmental differences — a lot of literature.”
The library is bringing back what it calls its “middle ground section,” which focuses on developmentally appropriate material for middle-schoolers and includes Spanish language materials.
Finding material shouldn’t be a problem as more than 1,000 books have been added to the catalog in the past year.
The play area for children is also revamping a bit and will provide a new selection of toys seasonally.
Chitow said she is especially keen to see the return of Lego Club in February.
“I really miss Lego Club. It is amazing to see kids put stuff together and then tell you about it,” she said.
Chitow is also working to ensure that the library is a helpful resource for people in need of services, such as partnering with nonprofit Looking Glass to provide aid for area at-risk youths.
Last fall, nonprofit Friends of the Cottage Grove Public Library received a $70,560 grant to enhance and create community-oriented library programs. The grant was awarded in a very competitive process; less than a third of the total funding requested was approved.
The funding is intended to better serve Spanish and Mayan-language speaking communities and support two community health workers who can act as a resource navigator for individuals and families who come to the library, Community Center or Senior and Disabled Services offices.
“We have communities of people who aren’t necessarily well connected enough to know that they do have options for things like health care, getting food, or getting connected to the different social services that they need,” said Chitow of the need in the community. “So, it’s also just checking in on people. There are a lot of people who have been isolated throughout all of the pandemic. … We’re kind of a public living room; just a place for people to get information. And, you know, I want people that feel comfortable coming in and hanging out for a while.”
Resources extend beyond the immediate community, too.
“We talk with the other libraries; we’re part of a consortium,” Chitow explained. “So, with the other public libraries, with the exception of Eugene, we do interlibrary loan where we share the same catalog system. We use the school district courier to make that happen during the school year and it just makes more books accessible to people.”
For those in the community with COVID concerns or mobility issues, the library will continue to offer curbside pickup.
“I also still do curated bags of books and other entertainment for people where they can call or email and let us know what they’re interested in and we’ll put something together for them to pick up,” said Chitow.
The library’s new hours are:
• Monday, Tuesday – 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
• Wednesday to Friday – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
• Saturday – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Visitors to the library are reminded that masks are required in all shared areas of city buildings. To request library materials, call 541-942-3828, email [email protected], or log in to an online account.