Lake Tahoe libraries slowly reopening and expanding services

Kayla Anderson / Tahoe Daily Tribune
The Incline Village branch of the Washoe County Library System.

Libraries have had a hard time reopening since they are hot spots for public gatherings.

However, as people yearn for ways to stay connected, improve their skills, or simply want to indulge in their love of reading in an affordable way, there’s pressure for local libraries to reopen, especially during the summer months.

Libraries have moved their programming online and have offered digital library cards and services, but nothing beats meeting in person. 

El Dorado County Library, South Lake Tahoe Branch

The El Dorado County Library South Lake Tahoe officially closed on March 16 but staff has been working the whole time, facilitating its new online storytime programming, retraining staff and communicating with other branches about when and how it can reopen again. 

“California is currently in Stage 2 right now and we’re in the Stage 3 category of reopening,” says El Dorado Library South Lake Tahoe Branch Manager Katharine Miller. Even though libraries are considered essential businesses, they are also very public places. Therefore, like local schools, libraries have kept their doors closed but are still doing what they can to accommodate library patrons. 

“On May 5 we started curbside pickup with minimal interaction and we’re working on how to offer safe computer access to those who need it without compromising health and safety,” Miller said.

She emphasizes that even when the library opens its doors to the public some services won’t initially be available. 

“We won’t have story times right away or our lecture series,” she said, because those tend to be highly frequented events.

On May 29, the library lifted its materials hold and reactivated people’s accounts so that they can return their books, DVDs, magazines and more to go back into circulation.

“People can return their materials in the book drop and then we place it in an isolation period for seven days before we can safely return it to the shelves,” Miller said.

Library patrons can place holds on items online like they did before and pick them up via curbside service from 10-11 a.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and from 4:30-5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays

Some programs that recently launched, like the Summer Reading Challenge, have also changed. 

“The Summer Reading Challenge kicked off on June 1 and it looks very different this year. We’re looking for ways to engage the community through Zoom and Facebook Live and coming up with ways to keep kids reading just for fun,” Miller said. 

The library system now uses Zoom to conduct most of its inter-staff meetings and says that it also helps connect people to special programs in other parts of El Dorado County. For instance, in early May one library branch that usually hosts a Star Wars-themed “May the Fourth Be with You” Day moved its annual event online this year therefore cosplay enthusiasts countywide could attend.

“It was a cool and positive way to see how Zoom can be used to reach people at home,” Miller said. 

The library also uses Zoom to host the Friends of the Library book group, mental health programs like live coffee chats for caregivers, and its popular Storytime for kids. 

“We’re going to have to go slow (in the library’s reopening), but we miss our patrons and all the folks in the community. But we are still doing curbside service fully masked,” she said. “It’s different than before but we’re nothing if not flexible.” 

Washoe County Library System, Incline Village Branch

Like El Dorado County, the Incline Village Library went on a hiatus in mid-March as well, asking patrons to hold onto their library materials until its Washoe County branches could accept them back safely to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

It immediately canceled all of its in-person events but was quick to move its programs online to stay connected to its patrons.

The Washoe County Library System also promoted ways to obtain a digital library card to gain access to eBooks, audiobooks, and other materials from afar. However, late last week the Washoe County Library System finally announced its reopening process containing a four-part plan that’s already in Phase 2. In its “Silver State Stabilization” part that runs through June 8, the library remains closed to the public but virtual services are ramped up including the launch of its summer reading program. 

“In this phase, we will still need to limit the population in the building, ensure social distancing, and ensure masks. This still poses an impossible challenge with the library staff available and the requirements of a safe environment … each branch sees over 1,000 people a day,” the Library System’s plan states. 

However, at the end of Phase 2 starting on June 8, people will be able to utilize its book drop box again even as the library remains closed to the public. 

“On June 8 people can start bringing materials back from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Monday through Friday,” said Incline Village Library Branch Manager John Crockett. “The materials will then be quarantined for 72 hours to ensure safety.” 

He explained that the library came up with that timeframe from studying CDC guidelines and health experts at the federal and local levels. 

“We looked at how long the virus can last on paper, cardboard, and plastic, and one or several of those elements is present in many of our materials,” he said. “What we’ve learned is that it’s hard for the virus to transmit from physical materials to humans and it’s more important for people to wash their hands frequently, not touch their face, and practice proper social distancing to not get sick.”

On June 15, the Incline Village Library will then allow “grab and go pickups” where people can place a hold online and then enter through one side of its meeting room, pick up the materials, use the self-checkout station, and leave out the other side.

“There will be one patron at a time and the book drop will be open during those same grab and go hours,” Crockett says. 

He assures library patrons that there are zero fines on overdue materials during this time and that the Washoe County Library System is trying to make things as safe and friction-free as possible. They’ve also extended the time period for people to pick up holds and increased the number of DVDs people can check out. 

“We also have a phone reference number that people can call and talk to library assistants if they have questions about their accounts, downloading materials, or registering for a virtual event through our website,” Crockett said. 

For more information about the Washoe County Library System, visit

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