When the COVID-19 pandemic hit San Luis Obispo County last March, local resident Erica Thatcher suddenly had a new job. She went from being the engagement and marketing coordinator for the SLO County Library to delivering groceries to homebound seniors.
Thatcher joined dozens of library workers who got reassigned to the SLO County emergency pandemic response team in March 2020, as the 14 local library branches—and seemingly all of society—shut down.
For the better part of the past 15 months, 70 to 80 percent of the library department has dedicated its time and energy to assisting with COVID-19 call centers, home deliveries, testing sites, vaccine clinics, and other pandemic-related duties.
- File Photo By Jayson Mellom
- BOOKS GALORE Local readers will be welcomed back inside all of their 14 SLO County libraries, including the downtown SLO branch (pictured) on June 22, after more than 15 months of full or partial closure due to COVID-19 safety precautions.
"At first it was scary. We were all asked to do something outside our comfort zones and job descriptions," Thatcher said. "We were trying to put together programs that didn't exist before. But I do feel like it was rewarding, and a lot of staff have expressed the same feelings. You're part of a bigger picture and you're getting services to people who need them the most."
Now, as the pandemic is subsiding locally and statewide, the SLO County library staff is finally getting to refocus on its original mission. And the public is getting its libraries back.
Starting Tuesday, June 22, all 14 SLO County library branches will reopen to the public. Half had been closed since March 2020, including the Cayucos, Oceano, Shandon, Creston, San Miguel, Santa Margarita, and Shell Beach branches.
"We missed our people," Thatcher said.
In the reopening announcement, SLO County said that all its branches would be "fully open" on June 22, with book browsing, holds and pickups, and computers available at the smaller branches.
The timing aligns with California's full reopening date of June 15, when the state is expected to lift most pandemic-era restrictions. The library is still encouraging social distancing by arranging its indoor furniture 6 feet apart and is asking unvaccinated visitors to wear face masks inside.
Thatcher said she knows that the community missed its libraries over the past 15 months and that it was tough for the public to lose access to them.
"We did get a lot of folks who were very vocal about missing library services. A lot of them wrote to the administration and really pushed to reopen," she said. "It was difficult."
The 20 to 30 percent of the department employees who stayed in library services during COVID-19 continued to work tirelessly to serve the community, Thatcher said, coordinating book drop-offs/pickups and digital programming.
"Staff was really making sure our digital collections and e-books were robust and accessible," she said. "I think we all feel a lot of pride in what we've done and what we're doing. We're looking forward to bringing back our services in a bigger and better way and welcoming everybody back."
With June 22 quickly approaching, Thatcher said she and her colleagues can't wait to see the community again face-to-face.
"Come back," she said. "We're here and we missed you."
• Sylvester's Burgers is running two promotions in June. "Free Burgers for Grads" offers a free Sylvester's burger to any high school or college senior who's graduating this month. Eligible customers can show proof that they graduated at the register—a diploma, cap and gown, or student ID. In addition, Sylvester's is also helping raise money for a local 5-year-old, Kyndal Gottfried, who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer. Anyone who donates $20 or more to Kyndal's treatment fund on Facebook (facebook.com/donate/538719990460541) is eligible for a free burger—just show proof of the donation at the register with an ID. Sylvester's has three locations: Atascadero, Oceano, and Los Osos.
• The first tenant at the SLO Public Market is set to open its doors this month. Orangetheory, a fitness gym, is opening on June 26 and will offer running classes that morning and a "come-and-go event" in the afternoon to give the public a chance to tour the studio, according to a press release. The gym is also offering "founding member rates" to new customers, for a limited time only. Over the next few months, more tenants at the SLO Public Market on Tank Farm Road and South Higuera are expected to open, and some will be present on June 26 to share samples, goodie bags, and more. Δ
Assistant Editor Peter Johnson wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to email@example.com.