Library visitors happy to get back in as La Jolla branch reopens for limited in-person use

La Jolla/Riford Library patron Amanda Notman gets help from a librarian in using the self-checkout kiosk Oct. 5.
La Jolla/Riford Library patron Amanda Notman gets help from a librarian in using the self-checkout kiosk Oct. 5.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The interior of the La Jolla/Riford Library is almost unrecognizable, with caution tape across bookshelves, silence from the children’s area, and the upstairs loft closed. But at least it’s open again.

The branch is one of a dozen San Diego city libraries that reopened for in-person indoor services Oct. 3, with capacity limited to 25 percent. The libraries opened their doors to patrons after more than six months of closure because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Joe Miesner, a supervising librarian for San Diego Public Library, said the limited reopening is part of a multiphase plan for the city’s 36 public libraries.

The other libraries that reopened over the weekend are the downtown Central location, Carmel Valley, Point Loma, Mission Valley, Rancho Bernardo, Malcolm X/Valencia Park, Mira Mesa, Logan Heights, San Ysidro, Mission Hills-Hillcrest and College-Rolando.

At the Riford branch at 7555 Draper Ave., masks are required and patrons have their temperature taken before being admitted into the building. A staff member counts how many people are inside at one time and explains the rules.

Caution tape is spread across bookshelves at the La Jolla/Riford Library to prevent crowding.
Caution tape is spread across bookshelves at the La Jolla/Riford Library to prevent crowding, but books can still be checked out.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The libraries allow computer use, printing, book pickups and some in-person help to find titles. But visitors can’t peruse the stacks alone, nor can they use study rooms, labs or any meeting spaces.

Every other computer has been removed to space them out. Shelves are taped off to prevent browsing, but librarians are on hand to help find certain books or DVDs. People who are there to pick up materials are given the items and instructed to use the self-checkout kiosk, which is routinely cleaned by masked and gloved employees.

Every other computer at the La Jolla/Riford Library is removed to ensure social distancing.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The response to the reopening has been positive, Riford branch manager William Mallory told the La Jolla Light.

“There were ongoing visitors throughout the day [Oct. 3], and many were glad to see staff again inside the library,” he said, adding that there were “zero issues” with patrons following the new rules.

“While patrons look forward to increased services, they were glad to see the library moving in this direction and reopening its doors in any capacity. The library, like most everyone during the pandemic, has reinvented themselves with increased virtual programming and pickup service. Our goal is to move forward safely and deliberately for the well-being of our staff and patrons. We don’t want to move forward too quickly and have to go backward and take services away again.”

On Oct. 5, the first weekday the library was open, patrons trickled through, mostly to pick up materials they had previously put on hold.

“We just moved here in June from Wisconsin, so it’s our first opportunity to come visit our library,” Amanda Notman said. “It’s nice to get back out and do things.”

Of her experience inside, she said: “It was very efficient and easy. It’s nice that they are accommodating so people can come back in. Libraries are a great community resource. We patronize libraries as we can and check out as many books as we can.”

Carl Park visited to pick up books he had placed on hold. “I came in rather than use the contactless pickup because I read they were open and I have about 15 books on hold for my children,” he said. “And I live close by, so I thought it would be easy to come by and see it. Every step [toward full reopening] is good, and obviously there are a lot of precautions, so we’ll see what happens.”

The Riford branch began offering contactless pickup in June. Elizabeth Szymasnski used it quite a bit during her summer home from college. “I’ve picked up probably 10 books … both for pleasure reading and for school,” she said.

“I think the fact that people can be inside again is great for people that need the libraries. I was pretty happy with just the contactless pickup.”

Her pickup of the day? “The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — And How to Make the Most of Them Now” by Meg Jay. “I’m about to turn 20 later this year so I wanted to give this a read,” she said.

A sign in front of the La Jolla/Riford Library at 7555 Draper Ave. outlines the rules for indoor use.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in a statement that “our libraries offer San Diegans a treasure trove of resources, whether it’s access to health information, distance learning, job searching or even just a book to pass the time, and we need them now more than ever. We’re reopening our libraries with health and safety as the top priority while also expanding digital access to give residents more opportunities as we get through this pandemic together.”

The La Jolla/Riford Library is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays but is closed from 1 to 2 p.m. daily for cleaning.

San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Brittany Meiling contributed to this report.