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Region libraries march onward with adjusted hours, services in pandemic
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Region libraries march onward with adjusted hours, services in pandemic


Libraries across Northwest Indiana have continued to provide patrons with services amid a global pandemic by offering curbside pickup, outdoor Wi-Fi access and virtual programming. 

Directors from Lake, Porter and LaPorte county libraries — all of which are offering varied services and hours — agreed while foot traffic may be down, patrons continue to access materials through curbside services or by using digital resources. 

Many said they plan to continue offering curbside services, even as walk-in hours are reintroduced. 

Directors from the Crown Point Community Library; East Chicago Public Library; Gary Public Library; Lake County Public Library; LaPorte County Public Library; Lowell Public Library; Hammond Public Library; Porter County Public Library System; Westchester Public Library; and Whiting Public Library told The Times on Tuesday masks are required to enter all library branches, hand sanitizer is placed throughout each library and social distancing guidelines are in place. 

Various libraries throughout the Region quarantine their materials before reshelving them for patrons to check out, and some are limiting patrons’ time in the library. 

Crown Point Community Library

On Saturday, the Crown Point Community Library will reopen its doors on the weekend and hours will be extended during the week. 

"We're cutting back one hour on Fridays and extending on Monday through Thursdays and opening up in the afternoons every Saturday," said Julie Wendorf, library director. 

As of last week, hard surface and vinyl seating returned to the library in select areas, spaced 6 feet apart. 

The library, one of the first to reopen in the county, will continue its virtual programming, and recently launched a new series on its YouTube page where the library visits places around the city. 

Coming soon to the Crown Point library is a book bike, which will hit the streets in spring 2021. 

The bike, funded by the Crown Point Community Foundation and Friends of the Crown Point Library, will help the library transport books for pop-ups, outdoor storytimes and to sell books at the Crown Point farmers market in the summer, Wendorf said. 

"It's something that I've wanted since 2015, but every time it came to grant time, I had something more important to go for," Wendorf said. "After doing a whole bunch of COVID-related grants, I was like, let's do something fun, let's get something bright for next spring." 

East Chicago Public Library 

Marla Spann, director of the East Chicago Public Library, said 35 patrons are allowed in each branch at a time and visits are limited to an hour. The library also is opening earlier than usual to serve students.

“Hopefully in January, depending on our COVID numbers, we will be able to open up totally,” Spann said. 

Patron temperature checks begin Monday, Spann said, and some in-person programming has resumed and study rooms are available by appointment.

Home and curbside services are still being offered and virtual programming is continuing, she said. 

Gary Public Library

The main branch of the Gary Public Library is open for walk-in service, with each branch offering curbside services, said Director Diana Morrow. 

"They (patrons) do not need an appointment to come into the library. We are still having them sign in to use the computer services, but they don't need an appointment to come into the library," Morrow said. "We do ask that they keep the visit short, and then they do have an hour limit on the computers."

Morrow said the Kennedy and Woodson branches will open soon, but an exact date has yet to be set. 

Some furniture is out in the library, but there is only one chair per table, Morrow said. 

In-person programming remains suspended, and the library is continuing to offer virtual programming. 

Wi-Fi is available in the parking lot, and Morrow said the library will begin offering hot spots at the end of the week or beginning next week. 

Lake County Public Library 

Beginning Thursday, the Lake County Public Library will resume walk-in hours. Since the onset of the pandemic, many of the branches have been open by appointment only. 

Effective Thursday, the Merrillville branch will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; closed Wednesday; open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and closed Sunday.

The other branches will reopen beginning Oct. 19 and 20, with Munster to open Oct. 26, said Lake County Public Library Director Ingrid Norris. 

"We're down 25 staff members and not because of the COVID just because of the natural attrition of people getting other jobs or moving out of the area," Norris said. "We're just trying to juggle the library based on the number of staff members we have.”

Hours have changed, Norris said, with most branches open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. for most of the week and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Each branch will be closed one day of the week. 

Children under 16 need to be accompanied by an adult.

Norris said the library is recommending patrons limit their visits to an hour. Upon reopening, seating will not be available. Wi-Fi can be accessed from the parking lot at all nine branches, Norris said.

The makerspace at the Merrillville branch also has reopened, and the library is now offering resume and cover letter help. Patrons can email for further assistance.

Virtual programming and curbside services will continue, Norris said. 

LaPorte County Public Library

The library hasn’t reduced its hours during the pandemic, but patrons are being asked to limit their visits and the amount of furniture has been reduced, said Director Fonda Owens. 

"We're still encouraging the quick visits, but people are —  they're staying. For example, if you book the meeting room then you have options for how long that is if you're reserving a room," Owens said. 

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The library will continue to offer curbside services to patrons, which can be reserved online at, Owens said. 

Meeting rooms and study rooms are open at a reduced capacity, and patrons should reserve the space before coming to the library to ensure a time slot, Owens said. 

Some in-person programming has resumed, Owens said, but registration is required to help maintain social distancing. Virtual programming and the online chat service are ongoing. 

Along with Wi-Fi in the parking lots of its seven locations, the library also offers hotspots for check out. 

Lowell Public Library

Becky Ashe, director of adult programming at Lowell Public Library, said patrons are asked to limit their visits to 30 minutes, which includes computer time. Curbside pickup is still offered. 

Ashe said furniture has been removed and newspapers aren’t out — both of which encourage people to stay in the library and read. 

“We're trying to limit the exposure,” said Ashe, who also handles public relations at the library.  

The library offers virtual programming via its YouTube channel — Lowell Public Library - Lowell Indiana, Ashe said, adding Wi-Fi is accessible from the library parking lot 24/7. 

Hammond Public Library

The Hammond Public Library began welcoming patrons back after Memorial Day, and is continuing to adhere to state guidelines, said Public Information Coordinator Linda Swisher.

Though the library is open for walk-in hours and patrons can stay inside as long as they’d like, save for library computer users who have a time limit, Swisher said many aren’t staying for long.

For a while, the library was offering curbside services, but the service has since stopped. The library still offers books by mail, Swisher said.

The library has resumed some in-person programming, but its larger events, such as the library’s FanFest are virtual, Swisher said, adding some events offer a hybrid of both.

“We've not usually had to do all of this hybrid programming with online and live before," Swisher said. "I think you get different audiences maybe than you had before. So trying to find a way to, and serve populations where they're at, whether it's home, or whether they're coming in the door, it's been an eye opener. It's been a new challenge."

Wi-Fi is available from the library parking lots and hotspots are available for checkout, though there is a waiting list, Swisher said.

Porter County Public Library Systems 

Porter County Public Library Systems resumed in-person services on May 4, and the library has been “marching forward” as it feels safe to do so, said Director Jesse Butz. 

Recently, the library began offering expanded hours on Sunday and added outdoor seating. 

"We're very, very close to back to normal. Where we're actually at now is we do close an hour early during the week, and two hours early in our smaller branches,” Butz said, noting there isn’t a time limit on visits. 

In-person programming remains suspended, but Butz said online programming is ongoing. Curbside services are continuing and “still going strong.” 

Butz said the library also is focusing on supporting families, students and teachers as they continue with remote learning. Hotspots are available to check out and Wi-Fi services are being upgraded at the library so parking lots will have better coverage, Butz said. 

Westchester Public Library

Patrons at Westchester Public Library are being encouraged to follow a “quick browse” model and limit their library visit to 30 minutes. As always, computers require an appointment to be used, said Director Lisa Stamm. 

Stamm said the library is “hearing constant support and appreciation for curbside.” 

Over the summer, the library began hosting outdoor programs, which had a “robust turnout,” Stamm said. As the temperatures drop and cold weather sets in, Stamm said the library plans to revert back to virtual programming. 

The library has seen a slight lessening of hours, and the main branch isn’t open on Sunday afternoons. Stamm said she doesn’t anticipate the hours changing soon. 

Seating is not out in the library, but Stamm said patrons are still greeted with the same atmosphere they know and love. 

"When you walk into the library it's not suddenly an austere ... environment. It's still all the colors and the books and the displays, and the people are friendly and we're still the same happy, helpful people that we were prior to the pandemic," Stamm said. 

Whiting Public Library

Whiting Public Library Director Montserrat Inglada said the library is back to being open during the week, but at reduced hours. 

"We're just allowing walk-in hours. We do have a limit that's 10 people in the adult department and 10 in the children's department," Inglada said. "We haven't had any issues with going over that number at any one time." 

The library is continuing to offer free faxes and copies, as well as virtual programming and curbside pickup. 

Over the summer, the library hosted outdoor events and is hoping to start drive-thru bingo soon, Inglada said.

The library has limited the amount of furniture in the building, Inglada said. 

In addition to Wi-Fi reaching the parking lot, hotspots are available for checkout, Inglada said. 


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South Lake County Reporter

Mary Freda is the South Lake County reporter at The Times. She is a proud Ball State graduate, where she studied news journalism and Spanish. You can reach Mary at or 219-853-2563.

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