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Three months have passed, but one cannot wait too long for a good mystery.

Dick Zamen had a bunch of them in the green tote bag Evanston Public Library staff had conveniently waiting for him on a table outside the northeast entrance to the Main Public Library on June 19.

Classic mystery writers Joseph Wambaugh, Jeffery Deaver, “these are books on hold when the embargo hit,” said Mr. Zamen, referring to the pandemic and the closing of Evanston libraries in mid-March. “So I was anxious to get them. That’s why I’m here.”

The City’s libraries are still closed and are not expected to open until September, at the earliest.

But business has been brisk at times in the first days since officials introduced curbside services.

Speaking at the June 17 Evanston Public Library Board meeting, Acting Interim Director Heather Norberg told Board members that “between yesterday and today we’ve had hundreds of items that have been picked up, hundreds of new holds [on materials] have been placed, and appointments made using the new appointment software that we have.”

Officials launched the new service this week, offering different options — email, phone (847-448-8630), IM, chat, to arrange pick-ups.

Details are available at https://www.epl.org/contact-free-holds-pickup-now-available

Once confirmation is received that an item is ready, if coming by car, borrowers can pick up their materials in the Library’s underground garage. 

If by foot or bike, patrons can find their materials on the northeast side of the building, where library staff has set up operation for the program, which runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

The activity is the first tangible sign of a return to life for the Library, the closing of which in mid-March may have had the widest impact of any Evanston institution simply because of the range of groups who use its service.

Until now, only maintenance staff have been working regularly in the City’s library buildings under  Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Stay-at-Home Order.

But Library officials are starting to move forward on a plan to reintroduce service from the Library’s physical locations, now that Phase 3 of the Governor’s  Restore Illinois plan has been reached, staff said in a memo this week.

In service level 1, where the Library currently stands, buildings remain closed, but limited numbers of staff all begin to return to work to support specific functions such as the curbside pickup program, which officials also hope to bring to the new Robert Crown library, at Dodge Avenue and Main Street, starting in July.

The Library’s plan for service level 2 calls for limited staff and a slow rollout of limited access to physical materials and computer use, both under strict guidelines, and with reduced hours, staff said in their memo.

The start date there is marked “Fluid” and is dependent on when Phase 4, Revitalization, of Restore Illinois plan,  is reached, the memo said.

“During this phase and per Restore Illinois, gatherings with 50 people or fewer will be permitted, staff said, sketching the conditions. “Testing is widely available, and contact tracing is commonplace.”

“Social distancing policies remain in place and masks are required,” the memo continued. “Infection risks are still high, but cases continue to decline. Robust sanitizing protocols remain in place. marking the anticipated start date as fluid.”

Still, conditions will hardly return to under officials’ description.

Seating will be removed from the floors; limited face-to-face staff/public interaction is anticipated, with greater reliance on either increased

self-checkout use or no-contact checkouts; returned materials will be quarantined for 72 hours before check-in, and other safeguards will necessarily be in place, officials say.

Even service level 3, which officials anticipate no earlier than September 1 (and dependent upon local and state risk assessment), will look much different from pre-pandemic days.

Some regular patron visits, small group meetings and programs and additional Library services will likely be added. 

Although regular service hours may then resume at the Main Library and Crown, the City’s North and CAMS branches would likely remain closed under the staff’s scenario.

For now, devoted Library users appear grateful service has surfaced in some form.

“Luckily, the condo building I live in has its own library,” Mr. Zamen.

Still, receiving email notice that curbside would be offered, his reaction, he said, was “Hallelujah!

“I miss all my library friends,” he said, referring to Library staff. “If I named them all, you’d run out of newsprint.”

James Genden, a retired lawyer and another regular Library user, made it with time to spare under the 3 p.m. closing time on June 19, to pick up his satchel of books, also on hold since the pandemic.

Mr. Genden said he hoped to glean material from the books for a paper he planned to present to the Chicago Literary Club, focusing on three operas written by the Italian opera master Giacomo Puccini.

Unfortunately, the books did nolt have the information he wanted.

“It took me three months to find that out,” he said.

Still, the curbside pickup was in line with a wish that Mr. Genden had expressed during the pandemic, in one of the online groups he belongs to.

“I said, if you can have takeout restaurants, why can’t you have takeout books,” recalled Mr. Genden, getting his wish.