Mary Jo Vortkamp, 52 of New Haven, reshelves books on Thursday, April 29, 2021 at the Detroit Public Library Jefferson Branch. Vortkamp is the manager and children's librarian at the Jefferson Branch. Vortkamp was formerly at the Franklin Branch that closed in March 2020. (Detroit Free Press photo by Mandi Wright)

After two years, the Detroit Public Library will reopen several of its shuttered neighborhood branches starting in July. 

Last summer, officials said that 15 of its 21 locations were temporarily closed to curb the spread of COVID-19 since most branches were small and it would be challenging to maintain safety precautions. In the meantime, the library has offered virtual programming and a mobile library, along with services at six branches and the Main Library in Midtown Detroit.

Still, the closures left some Detroit communities without a hub for free resources like access to the internet. 

The administration’s reopening plan is staggered throughout the summer and into next year. Jo Anne Mondowney, executive director of the Detroit Public Library, laid out the schedule during a Tuesday Detroit Library Commission meeting. 

Starting July 5, the Detroit Public Library will reopen the following neighborhood branches: Bowen, Chandler Park, Chaney, Elmwood Park, Knapp and Sherwood Forest.

On July 18, the Franklin and Lincoln branches will open.

On Aug. 22, the Douglass and Duffield locations will resume operations. 

“All library locations have been cleaned and feature new public computers. We will continue the COVID-19 safety protocols that require customers to wear masks,” Mondowney said. 

Two branches are slated to open their doors again next year — Chase library in January and the Hubbard branch in March, Mondowney said. These libraries have later dates because of delays in getting materials needed for new cooling and heating systems, she said. 

It’s unclear when three other neighborhood branches will reopen.

The Monteith branch needs more than $3.3 million for a new roof and boiler, air conditioning, electrical work, revamping its public spaces and modifications to make it ADA compliant. The Conely branch also needs significant work. The Skillman library, adjacent to the Hudson’s site in downtown Detroit, will remain closed while major construction continues in the area that’s disrupting access and parking, Mondowney said. 

Public libraries play a key role during economic downturns. It’s a place where patrons can access the internet and fill out job applications. Prior to the pandemic, Detroiters relied on their neighborhood branches to pick up tax forms and organize community events. 

The library is planning a September reopening celebration during “Library Card Sign-up Month,” Mondowney said. 

The Detroit Public Library is working to fill more than 100 vacant positions that cropped up throughout the course of the pandemic, she said. In 2019, there were about three million visits to Detroit Public Library branches. The library provided public access to more than 1,200 computers, and roughly 272,000 children, teens and adults attended community programming before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and BridgeDetroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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