Public libraries across Flanders re-opening, for loans only


Libraries are working with different systems to be able to lend books, CDs and DVDs safely to customers, though they are not all taking them back

Booked out

Selected public libraries across Flanders are re-opening, but only to loan materials. Arrangements are being put in place so that books and other items can be reserved and collected, generally for return once the coronavirus crisis has passed.

Most public libraries closed completely in the early phase of the crisis, and the Flemish Association for Libraries, Archives and Documentation (VVBAD) lobbied for that position to continue. But the federal government disagreed, stating that public libraries were essential services. They should remain open so people can borrow items, as long as social distancing measures could be respected.

Some libraries, such as De Krook in Ghent and Ostend public library, have been lending books from the outset of the crisis. But now a number of those that closed are putting lending arrangements in place and re-opening for business.

Time-slots allocated

One is the Utopia library in Aalst, which is accepting email orders from today for loans to be collected from 6 April onwards. Only members of the library can make use of the service, and must limit themselves to a single order of up to five items.

If the books, CDs or films are available, they will be reserved and a non-negotiable time slot allocated for their collection at the main entrance of Utopia’s principal branch. Miss the collection slot, and everything goes back on the shelf.

“We are well aware that this way of working is inconvenient,” the library says on its website. “It’s also new territory for us, and we are trying to organise lending as safely as possible, for both our visitors and our staff.”

The library will quarantine the materials for four days before making them available again

While Utopia is not yet accepting returns, other libraries have decided this can also be done safely. The small public library in Pepingen, Flemish Brabant, opened its loan service on Monday this week, inviting borrowers calling for new items to leave returns in the same safe space. “The library will then quarantine the materials for four days before making them available again,” it explains.

Bruges public library has also opened for orders today, with collections available from 6 April. It has plans to re-start its mobile library as well, enabling books to be delivered to less mobile people at home.

Despite the call to remain open, public libraries in some big Flemish cities, such as Leuven and Antwerp, remain completely closed, as does Muntpunt, the main Flemish library in Brussels. Readers are directed to the libraries’ electronic resources instead.

Photo: Pick up your books through an opening in the plexiglass at De Krook in Ghent
©De Krook/Facebook