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COVID strikes Helena library, prompts Saturday closure

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Lewis and Clark Library

Lewis & Clark Library is pictured in this file photo. 

After a week of early closures due to staffing issues, the Helena branch of the Lewis and Clark Library announced in an Aug. 2 Facebook post that it would be closed on Saturday. 

The staffing issues at the Lewis and Clark Library are thanks to COVID-19, said Patricia Spencer, the library’s public information officer and volunteer coordinator. The county’s COVID-19 hub states there are 64 active cases in the county.

She added there’s also a library conference this week that some of the librarians were already planning on attending, and it’s vacation season too.

“We’re doing everything we can to ensure staff safety and patron safety,” Spencer said. 

The library also canceled its Teen Film Camp, which was scheduled for Aug. 8-11. Spencer said the library is hoping to reschedule this event.

This is not the first time COVID has impacted the Lewis and Clark Library. The main branch temporarily closed due to COVID-19 in October 2020. 

Spencer said Friday even though the library shut its doors early throughout last week and is closed on Saturday, its resources are still available online through its website – lclibrary.org – for library cardholders. Those resources, she said, include the library’s databases, along with the ability to reserve and renew library materials.

Even though it had staffing issues this week, Spencer said the Helena branch of Lewis and Clark Library isn’t hiring. 

“We’re in a unique position being fully staffed currently,” Spencer said. 

The East Helena branch is hiring though. Spencer said it’s looking for a part-time branch library assistant and a part-time mail and serials clerk. The mail and serials clerk, Spencer said, won’t be interacting with the public. 

According to the East Helena branch’s website, the hiring for the library assistant closes on Aug. 17, and the search for the mail and serials clerk ends Aug. 8. 

The Clancy Library and Montana City Library, two more Helena-area libraries, have seen issues with staffing. Both addressed the staffing issues in a July 21 Facebook post.

“We have been understaffed for years, but now we are so severely understaffed that we cannot keep up with our regular hours and services,” the post stated. “Please know we are doing the very best we can.”

The post also stated the North Jefferson County Library Board “committed to hire enough staff to bring our staffing level up to comparable libraries.” The libraries anticipate “returning to excellent library services before the end of the year.”

As for the Helena branch of the Lewis and Clark Library, Spencer said closing it Saturday was a difficult decision, but they’re hoping to resume normal library operating hours on Sunday. 

“We appreciate the support of our community and are able to do what we do because of the people from Lewis and Clark County,” Spencer said.

The library will continue to use its Facebook page, @LewisandClarkLibraryHelena, and its website to update the community on its status and any closures, according to Spencer.

Mariah Thomas can be reached at mariah.thomas@helenair.com

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University of Montana student and reporting intern for the Helena Independent Record and Montana State News Bureau

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