A computer work station at the Central Library in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.
A computer work station at the Central Library in downtown San Antonio in 2015. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The San Antonio Public Library is set to expand services beginning Nov. 4, allowing people to make appointments for computer access at most branches.

The public libraries closed on March 13 to limit the spread of COVID-19 and began to reopen in phases beginning June 16. Libraries are still closed to the public for book browsing and other uses, but users can request materials for curbside pickup.

“City leadership hasn’t told us what our timeline [for fully reopening] is,” said Haley Holmes, public services administrator for the Central Library. “We’re told with other departments when it’s time to move into the next phase. And we were asked to put together a four-phase plan approach to coincide with all the other departments in the city.”

Beginning next month, the library system will move into Phase 3 of its reopening plan, which includes appointment-based computer access for Central Library and all branch location visitors. Computer appointments are available Tuesdays from 3 to 7 p.m. and Wednesdays through Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m. Visitors can call their nearest location to schedule an appointment. 

Currently computer appointments are available at only nine branches. “We’ve had almost 7,000 computer sessions” since the branches have reopened for that purpose, Holmes said. “So we see that there’s definitely a need for access to computers and Wi-Fi.”

The new phase also includes a standardized schedule for all locations’ contact-free materials pickup service, which is Tuesday from noon to 7 p.m. and Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors can place items on hold online at mysapl.org or by calling their local branch. 

The libraries continued to offer free Wi-Fi services outside 28 branch locations daily from 7:30 a.m. through 10:30 p.m. Holmes said many libraries received a Wi-Fi signal boost early in the pandemic to expand internet access further from the buildings.

All branch locations will be moving into Phase 3 except Forest Hills and McCreless, which are undergoing renovations. 

Forest Hill and McCreless will still offer contact-free pickup on a modified schedule but will not be offering computer services until renovations are completed in 2021.

The 2017 municipal bond allocated $3.3 million for Memorial Branch Library, $900,000 for Forest Hills, $2.5 million for McCreless, $1.8 million for Las Palmas, and $1.3 million for Texana Resource Center. Downtown’s Central Library, which houses the Texana Resource Center, was granted $3 million.

Holmes said that for the Central Library, implementing COVID-19 safety measures amid renovations is a consideration.

“We’re in the design [process], thinking forward to if we have to continue to social distance,” Holmes said. “If we have to continue to have the protocols in place, [then] we want to build those into the improvements that we’re making.”

Plexiglas barriers are being installed as a means to protect the staff and visitors from spreading the virus, she said.

While other businesses and services have more fully opened their doors to patrons, Holmes said libraries are different because of the amount of time patrons spend there and the level of interaction that occurs between the staff and community, such as educational programming for children.

“Some people do just come in and grab what they want, and they go, but a lot of people spend extended periods of time in the library, either using the computers or reading a newspaper,” Holmes said. “And we also see in libraries a lot of older people who like to come in and spend a lot of time, so we’re trying to keep people at risk in mind, too, as we approach our reopening.”

Samantha Ruvalcaba, who grew up in San Antonio, is a Shiner intern and junior at St. Mary's University studying international and global studies with a minor in communications.