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Library tries to balance community, health needs during pandemic

MARSHALL — Public libraries have an important role as a community resource — but figuring out how to provide that resource while protecting public health is now a day-to-day task, Michele Leininger said.

For the Marshall-Lyon County Library, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has meant making decisions to close branch locations, limit access to parts of the library, and put more distance between visitors and library workers.

“It’s a difficult decision to make,” said Leininger, the director of MLCL. But the library is always looking at how to support the needs of both its patrons and the community.

Coronavirus has been a concern for area libraries especially as the number of cases in Minnesota grows, Leininger said. A confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in Jackson County, one of the nine counties served by the regional Plum Creek Library System that MLCL is also a part of.

As of Tuesday, many libraries in the Plum Creek system were either closed or limiting their services to try and prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to a closure list on the system’s website. In Jackson County, the Jackson, Heron Lake and Lakefield libraries were closed to the public, and weren’t making interlibrary loans. Several libraries closer to the Lyon County area are also either closed or taking steps to practice “social distancing” by having home deliveries or pickups of books.

MLCL has taken a variety of actions to help fight COVID-19, Leninger said. Many of the precautions are geared toward limiting interpersonal contact between members of the public and library staff, and avoiding the spread of germs by touching objects.

Starting on Monday, the Cottonwood and Balaton branches of MLCL were closed down. Starting Tuesday, the children’s wing at the Marshall location was also closed to the public, although library staff can retrieve items from the children’s library for patrons.

Even though MLCL staff regularly sanitize the toys and surfaces in the children’s wing, “There are just so many things to touch in there,” Leininger said. It’s not easy to catch up with sanitizing every surface after every use. For the same reason, the library has also closed its small study rooms until further notice.

“We’re constantly looking at what it means to socially distance,” and limit close contact between people at the library, Leninger said. Library patrons are being instructed not to hand things to library workers while checking out books or other materials. Instead, patrons are asked to lay books on the counter so they can be scanned.

For people who really want to limit close contact to protect their health, MLCL has also expanded its homebound delivery program. Anyone over the age of 60, or who has underlying health issues and is no longer leaving home, is eligible for the program. Library staff will deliver materials by a patron’s door, and then step back in keeping with CDC social distancing guidelines.

Library patrons interested in signing up can contact MLCL at 507-537-7003.

Starting Wednesday, the Marshall library location will also have reduced hours of operation. The library will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. However, Leininger said that’s mainly due to a decrease in foot traffic at the library.

There have been a lot fewer people visiting the library lately, especially after Marshall schools closed, she said. The patrons who are stopping by are coming in, checking out materials and going home without spending lots of time in the building.

Information on area library closures can be found at the Plum Creek Library System’s website,

The Ivanhoe library closed to the public on March 19, the PCLS website said. However, the library would be filling requests and may provide pickups or deliveries for seniors and homebound people. Materials that are returned to the library will be quarantined.

The Lake Benton library closed to the public on March 17, but would have call-in and pickup service available, the PCLS website said.

The Minneota library was closed as of March 17. The Tyler library is also closed, and is not making interlibrary loans, PCLS said.

Some area libraries were still listed as open, including the Tracy and Slayton libraries. The Slayton library has cancelled public programming, but is providing home deliveries, and will continue to make interlibrary loans, the PCLS site said.

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