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Will O’Hearn, the Library Services Director, is happy to see the impact that the library has in the community. The Eugene Public Library has returned to pre-pandemic hours and the staff recognizes the importance of the library in the community. (Mary Grosswendt/Emerald)

All three branches of the Eugene Public Library returned to their pre-pandemic hours on Nov. 1. The Downtown Library will now be open Sundays, and the Bethel and Sheldon branches will return to evening hours.

The Downtown Library is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday, according to an announcement by the city. The Bethel and Sheldon branches are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday through Saturday, as well as 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

“One of the things that’s important for us is to have a variety of hours, so that we can meet the needs of the variety of community members who have different work schedules,” user experience manager LaVena Nohrenberg said.

Library services director Will O’Hearn said the extended hours will provide more convenience to community members. “Access is one of the things that really pushes us forward and that’s really critical for us,” O’Hearn said.

The library has hired more staff to fill those extended hours, O’Hearn said.

Autumn Shafter, a professor in the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, said she used to take her children to the library once a month, and they loved the storytelling, books and getting used to the computers. Although she has not been to the library since the pandemic began, she looks forward to returning regularly once community spread lowers, she said.

Eugene Public Library closed its buildings’ doors on March 14, 2020, but kept its “virtual doors” open as much as possible, O’Hearn said. People could check out items online, and staff continued chat and phone services to help customers navigate services.

O’Hearn said library staff had to get creative to provide services without the buildings being open. For instance, staff helped people get library cards over the phone instead of in person, he said. The library began to offer curbside service in early summer of 2020.

The pandemic created additional tasks for library staff, such as when they were recommended to quarantine returned items at the beginning of the pandemic, O’Hearn said. The library and its reopening committee worked closely with the city to follow the general safety practices, he said.

Eugene Public Library reopened its doors late summer in 2020, O’Hearn said. In a recent announcement by the city, O’Hearn said many people have told staff the library was their lifeline during this past year.

“A lot of times, people were more alone, and so the library was windows to the world,” O’Hearn said. The library provided free entertainment to all when some people had more free time, but not free income, he said.

“The first day we opened up, I realized how important our computers were,” he said. Someone told him they were not able to check their bank account during the time the library buildings were closed. Another person told O’Hearn the library allowed them to communicate with their relatives on Facebook.

Nohrenberg said the library continued to serve as a point of equal access during the pandemic, providing services like computers, Wi-Fi and charging once its buildings reopened.

“It is the one place where everybody has the same amount of access, equal access to everything, regardless of your role in the community, regardless of your status in the community,”  Nohrenberg said.

“We’re here because we care about literacy,” O’Hearn said. “We care about sharing knowledge with the world and different experiences. We're happy to do so and glad we could help serve the community as much as we can during a difficult challenging time for our community.”