At its July 21 meeting, the Homewood Public Library board agreed to reopen the FORT, a special spot in the library for teens. The space has been closed since the beginning of the pandemic.
The FORT (Friends of Remarkable Teens) is an area on the second floor designated for 7th-12th graders. It has a wide variety of graphic novels, manga and other books, areas where teens can read, relax, study and hang out, and a gaming area where teens can play Xbox and Nintendo Switch.
“I’ve made a lot of friends just standing right here,” said Sofia Alessandrina, president of the HPL’s Teen Leadership Council, referring to the FORT’s manga section. “Kids would come in here and just hang out with their friends. That was all before COVID,” she said when giving a virtual tour of the FORT three months ago.
Although the FORT has reopened, the hours will be limited to 5 to 9 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays, according to Colleen Waltman, the director of HPL.
Because of the pandemic, some computers in the FORT haven’t been turned on for a year and a half. This caused a halt in software and hardware updates. Staff is working to have new, up-to-date computers ready. Laptops may be available, if necessary.
HPL staff will slowly be introducing other new items to the FORT and the youth areas for younger children, especially toys and furniture that are easy to keep sanitized. According to Waltman, the book stacks and collections for children have been open but the area where the kids usually play with toys has been closed. She said staff hopes to have it re-opened by September.
“There’s a librarian who’s been going out and doing story time at parks,” said Waltman. During the pandemic, HPL has been hosting events for children, especially virtual events.
Face masks were also discussed at the board meeting. It was decided that the library will “wait it out and see” if a mask mandate will return. In the meantime, masks are required for youth but not vaccinated adults.
In other business, library board trustees continue negotiations with the union. Approximately 72% of HPL’s staff is union, according to Waltman. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers (AFSCME) represents all staff except for pages, managers and library aides.
“We received [the union’s] proposal and we will present them with a counter-proposal. And we will be meeting with them again” in the immediate future, Waltman said.