After being closed for more than a year, Sammamish Library opened its doors to the public on Thursday.
Librarians lined the entrance to cheer on the first of 846 patrons who entered the building on July 8, the day of reopening.
In the first 25 minutes after doors were open, 5 library cards were issued to kids whose parents were excited for them to check out books from shelves instead of using the online system.
“Everybody came in with a great big smile. They were so excited to come in and we were so excited to see them,” said Irene Wickstrom, a librarian services manager.
The library building was closed to the public since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the staff kept library services open and available for the community, offering everything from virtual story times to curbside pick-ups.
Keira Casey, a library technical assistant, described how they operated as being “completely transformed” during the past 15 months.
What was missing was the ability to walk the aisles, browse shelves, and read in a nook or at a table within the library itself. That changed on Thursday, with the sight of abundant smiles as kids sat on couches and tucked in to read books with their parents.
Heather Westgarth, 40, a mom of two little boys, said that she loved how the library had books for all ages to browse. Westgarth’s six-year-old son, Niall, loves looking at the DVD selection.
Librarian Manjula Balakrishnan, who has worked for the library for 8 years, said she is glad to be able to interact with patrons again.
“People that come into the library are from so many different walks of life and from so many backgrounds,” Balakrishnan said. “You get to learn something from everyone each day; more than just knowledge from the items on the shelves.”
Sara Jensen, a 20-year-librarian, loves helping people find good reads and is glad that kids still have an interest in finding new books.
“We have been open now for a day and I would say the most popular requests are [things like], ‘What are some great books? Can you recommend a book based on that book?’ We hope the people still reach out for book recommendations [in person],” Jensen said.
Sammamish Library is currently facilitating its annual Summer Reading Challenge, a program where kids of all ages track their reading progress throughout the summer. This year, the library staff added something new to the challenge — a small mountain displayed in the window where readers can tape a paper hiker after they complete the challenge.
Although the last year has been difficult, the COVID-19 shutdown did give the library some valuable tools and experience. One of the benefits of an all-virtual library was that all meetings and events were held online. Wickstrom, the librarian services manager, said that keeping these events virtual made them easier to manage, and negated the impact of driving, traffic and busy schedules. It also helped the library extend its reach.
“[The library] had parents and children attend from all over, not just from King County,” Wickstrom said.
Virtual story times and other events for kids up to age 18 will continue through the summer.
In reality, the Sammamish Library was never closed, but now the building is once again brimming with activity inside.