The eight branches of the Prairie River Library District are gradually recovering and reopening to the public after a year of shutdown because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Lisa Puckett, director of the district that includes public libraries in Craigmont, Culdesac, Kamiah, Kooskia, Lapwai, Nezperce, Peck and Winchester, said all branches are reopened to their pre-pandemic levels, although some may have adjusted their opening and closing hours to accommodate patrons’ schedules.

“We’re getting back to sorta normal,” Puckett said. “Basically our branches are back open and the (library) board just decided that masks are highly recommended, especially for people who haven’t been vaccinated yet,” but are not mandatory.

“We’re still trying to observe social distancing, washing hands and hand-sanitizing stations are available,” she added. “Hopefully people can come in and still interact, but do it as safely as possible.”

All public libraries took a hit when businesses and other establishments closed down last year because of the pandemic. With people not allowed inside the buildings, many libraries developed hybrid ways of serving the public by enhancing online resources and offering curbside services for books on loan.

Some of the branches that offer crafts and other activities also created weekly curbside pickup plans for participants.

But that wasn’t entirely satisfying for people who just like to come to the library and browse, or use computers, Wi-Fi and other services libraries offer, Puckett said.

“When you’re used to going in and looking at the shelves, online and curbside, that really doesn’t cut it,” Puckett said. “Especially for those people who just like to look.”

According to the library district’s annual report for 2019-20, foot traffic in the eight branches dropped by about a half of the previous year during the pandemic. Summer programs, which are popular events for youth and adults, were delivered virtually. There were 875 total programs offered during the year with attendance of 8,638.

ValNet, which supplies many of the resources for the rural branches, increased digital downloads by 15,000 books and 11,809 e-books were borrowed during that period. There were also 78,028 total Wi-Fi users and 14,234 total computer users.

Puckett said the challenge of trying to make resources available to patrons during the pandemic has had an upside.

“There’s a bigger, better (e-book) selection and a pretty good catalog in there right now and we’ll try to make that a good resource for people,” she said.

“I think we’ve found some new ways to do programming we hadn’t thought of before. (The pandemic) made us kind of pivot to make contact with our patrons, and some of that will still be in our plan going forward.

“We’re feeling good that people are coming back to the library and are excited to be able to come back and still trying to be careful and trying to be safe.”

Anyone seeking more information about the library district and the branch offerings may go to prld.org.

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.