The Hawaii State Public Library System has begun allowing patrons inside its buildings for the first time in eight months.
Community members throughout the state can now visit their public libraries once a day thanks to a new program, Wiki Visits.
Wiki Visits allow a limited number of patrons into the library for quick grab-and-go trips to select books and materials and for appointments to use the library’s computers.
Wiki Visits begin at the top of the hour and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Each person will be able to access the libraries once a day.
The limited number of patrons will have up to 45 minutes to find books, ask for assistance, use the copiers or use a computer.
Newspapers, magazines and reading areas inside the libraries remain closed.
The amount of people allowed inside the library will depend on how large the space is and how many people are working that day, according to Hilo librarian Gretchen Andrews.
Everyone entering the libraries will be required to follow mandated health and safety protocols, such as wearing a mask and distancing from other patrons.
“After a couple days, we’ve had some really positive feedback with the visits,” Andrews said. “I think people are happy to be able to be around books and browse what we have right now.”
Although the Hilo library is open, many sections remain inaccessible to the public.
“We want to open more shelves, but it’s hard to monitor the whole library with our staff,” Andrews said. “Some of the areas that are closed are gathering spaces, which are meant to be closed for right now.”
While many are happy to have better access to the libraries, some patrons have expressed need for more time and freedom at the library.
“How come grocery stores, restaurants, malls, and open markets get to be open during this pandemic?” asked Linda Jackson in a letter to the Tribune-Herald. “We are being deprived of a source of information, education and entertainment that we support financially as Hawaii citizens.”
Jackson said she missed strolling through the stacks of books and reading in the library’s courtyard. She also expressed concern about the limited amount of time people get to work on computers.
“Townies depend on these computers to network for social services — such as housing and jobs,” Jackson said. “We can easily reopen the libraries again and follow safety precautions like wearing masks, distancing ourselves and sanitizing our hands.”
Although many have complained about the limited computer time, the library system does not have plans to alleviate the current system of 45 minutes of computer time per person per day. Public libraries will continue providing free Wi-Fi zones outside all buildings for everyone who needs free access to the internet.
“We are consistently working and listening to the state about how best to serve the community,” Andrews said. “We can’t make everyone happy, but this is the best way to keep our community and employees safe right now.”
For library patrons who want to continue making appointments to pick up books and materials, Hawaii’s libraries will continue to offer the Library Take Out services.
Norma Clark recently moved to Hilo from Kailua-Kona and decided to take advantage of the Wiki Visits on Wednesday morning.
“I’m just so glad to have any time in this beautiful library,” Clark said while looking for a book. “Libraries are my favorite place, so I’m happy with this.”
Email Kelsey Walling at firstname.lastname@example.org.