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Now fully open, St. Helena Public Library eagerly awaits patrons

Any library is expected to field questions about books. But restaurant recommendations? Where to buy those ever-elusive rolls of toilet paper?

The staff of the St. Helena Public Library has heard it all.

“’Is the Bale Mill open?’ ‘Where’s the hiking trail to the river?’ We get asked that type of question all the time because we know the community,” said Mariah McGuire, outreach services librarian.

The library’s gradual post-COVID reopening started in March, but the staff wants to spread the word that the facility is now fully open, with no appointments necessary. Just bring a mask and practice social distancing.

“Please come here, hang out,” McGuire said. “We’re ready.”

Indoor programs are returning. Jay Greene’s historical lectures resumed on Sept. 7, and about 15 people attending a Sept. 15 lotería, a bingo-like event intended to reach out to St. Helena’s Latino community.

The library kept promotion of the lotería under wraps for fear of drawing too large of a crowd.

“It was our first interactive event centered on community socializing, so we wanted to make sure we could spread everybody out,” McGuire said. “It worked really well, so now we can continue to build on that model.”

Events geared toward children are still being held outdoors, since kids aren’t old enough to be vaccinated.

Most of the kids who show up for storytime at 10:30 every Tuesday are toddlers. For some of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever interacted with kids outside their families after a year of sheltering at home.

“We want to offer a safe, fun environment for them to socialize,” McGuire said.

From the early days of the pandemic, library staffers were pushing to get back to work and offer more services: curbside pickup, live chat and take-and-bake kits — more than 1,300 handed out so far.

“We’re a family here, and our patrons are part of our family,” McGuire said. “So we had to stay in contact with them, even when we were completely shut down.”

The library is starting to resemble its old self, with kids dropping by after school to use the free Wi-Fi, tutors helping students with math homework, and patrons using the public computers or browsing the latest newspapers and magazines.

People are once again calling the library with oddball questions, like the San Diego woman who needed the phone number for her local representative but didn’t want to call one of her local libraries because she felt they were “too big.”

But some patrons still haven’t returned, and the library staff is eager to see them.

“Libraries are one of the only places where you can spend your whole day for free,” McGuire said. “Where else can you do that in St. Helena?”

While parents and educators have been focusing on home-schooling and getting kids back in the classroom, another crisis has been brewing. American kids have a serious problem with reading. 25 million children are affected by the literacy crisis in the U.S. In 2019, 2/3 of 4th graders were not proficient readers and as they moved through school, the gap widened. Source by: Stringr

You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or

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