YORK'S libraries re-open next week following weeks of lockdown. All 15 libraries, plus the three reading cafés, will be open for you to browse and borrow books - and at most of them you'll also be able to access the internet on library PCs. You'll even be able to get a cup of coffee and a bite to eat.

But what social distancing measures will be in place, when will your local library be open - and will it feel different to the way it was before coronavirus struck?

When will your library be open?

Opening times will vary from library to library, so you are best checking Explore York's website (exploreyork.org.uk/libraries/) for details of your local library. The normal opening time, at least for larger libraries, will be 10am, though closing times vary. Some smaller libraries are only open in the afternoons on some days, or closed on certain days altogether. Opening hours will generally be shorter than you were used to in the past, to allow for better cleaning - and all libraries will close by 5pm at the latest.

The four large Explore centres (York Central Library, and Acomb, Clifton, and Tang Hall Explore libraries), which have been partly open since July on a 'click and collect by appointment' basis, will be closed on Mondays throughout September, so won't re-open for drop-ins and browsing until Tuesday. Other libraries will open from Monday, September 7.

York Press:

Explore York central library, which will reopen on Tuesday

What social distancing measures will be in place?

There will be hand-sanitising stations as you walk into each library. Visitors will be asked to wear face masks. Libraries will not provide these - so make sure you bring them with you.

Comfortable furniture, such as sofas, will have been removed, to create more space and to discourage people from meeting together. In libraries that have cafés, tables and chairs have been spaced more widely, to increase social distancing.

Can I browse through books normally?

Yes - although library staff are hoping you will avoid touching books you do not plan to borrow if you can avoid it.

That will be difficult, admits Fiona Williams, chief executive of Explore York. "But we just hope that people will be sensible - which we think people are being!"

Books that have been borrowed and returned will be placed into 'quarantine' for 72 hours, before being returned to shelves.

York Press:

Books will be 'quarantined' for 72 hours after being borrowed, says Explore chief executive Fiona Williams

Will I be able to use library PCs to access the internet?

In most York libraries yes. This is something library staff have been very keen on, says Fiona. "That is something that people really felt the loss of."

You may need to be patient, however. There will be a break of about 15 minutes between each person using a PC, so that it and the station at which it stands can be thoroughly cleaned before the next customer sits down to use it.

While you will be able to use computers in most York libraries, this won't, sadly, be the case at New Earswick or Dunnington. With Covid-19 restrictions in place Dunnington library is just too small, says Fiona - and at New Earswick, the library PCs are kept in a part of the Folk Hall that is still not open to the public.

Will I be able to get a coffee or a bite to eat?

All York's library cafes will be open for eat-in or takeaway from Tuesday (September 8). That includes the cafes in Acomb, Tang Hall (Burnholme Centre) and York Explore, as well as the reading cafés at Rowntree Park and Hungate, and the pop up café in Homestead Park.

York Press:

Cafés, such as this at Tang Hall Library, will be open, says Fiona Williams

Will the archives be open?

No. Opening the extensive archives at Explore York central library to the public is just too complicated for now, says Fiona - so it was decided to concentrate on books and computers to start with.

The Family History section of the central library will be open, however - and Fiona hopes it may be possible to open the archives again in October.

And what about author events and other activities?

Sadly, it won't be possible to hold these in libraries for the time being: it just isn't possible for social distancing reasons, says Fiona.

However, to compensate, Explore York is planning a host of free online events and activities that people can access online from their own homes through the autumn and winter. These include:

• The regular monthly poetry evening, Finding the Words, showcasing poets from Yorkshire and beyond. This will restart online on Thursday September 24.

• World Turned Upside Down 2020 #haiflu edition – a series of cartoon and poetry workshops recording people’s experiences of lockdown which will be used to create a unique 'chapbook' which will also reflect York’s printing history.

• Exclusive poetry launch with Valley Press featuring Carole Bromley and Di Slaney on September 30.

• Fun Palaces weekend on Zoom on October 3 and 4 - with the theme of 1,000s of tiny 'fun palaces'. Details of activities for families will be posted on the main Fun Palaces website.

• Library visits for schoolchildren are going virtual. "We have filmed a virtual visit to the children’s library at York Explore to share with schools," said Fiona Williams.

• National Libraries Week will take place from October 5-11. "We are planning online events for adults and children every day during the week," Fiona said. "These will showcase everything that we offer as a library service. This will include storytimes for children, a special adult storytelling event, a chance to experience a Reading Together session, an author visit, make-alongs and craft activities."

• Explore York Archives will be showcasing their Uncovering York’s Sporting Heritage Project during October.

• Hoglets will be creating six exclusive online storytimes featuring stories from around the world for children.

• Storyteller John Kirk will be presenting five online stories for older children starting in half term. "These will include Roald Dahl’s the Twits," said Fiona

• In November, Explore will be celebrating Explore Your Archives Week with online sessions sharing our its archives, including Poor Law and Health Archives and the York Normandy Veterans Archive.

To find out how to join in these activities, sign up for regular email updates eepurl.com/gukXtv or visit the Explore website and sign up for the newsletter.

In what other ways will libraries be different?

Lockdown really forced libraries - as well as everyone else - to embrace the possibilities of technology for communication, says Fiona Williams.

Since April, library members have already been able to access more than 7,000 newspapers and magazines from all over the world online via their tablet or mobile, thanks to Press Reader. Explore was able to sign up to this thanks to a £17,000 grant from City of York council, and is committed to continuing it. "It opens up a whole world of stuff," says Fiona

In other developments, Library staff have already been hosting training webinars online. But the potential goes much further.

A few year ago, Acomb Explore Library featured a Skype interview and Q&A with an author based in Massachusetts, in the US: the interview was screened live on a big screen in the library. That seemed innovative at the time. But new technology can take things much further.

In future, Fiona says, it should be possible to host such events on the web - so that library customers won't even need to leave their homes: never a nice thing to do on a cold, wet evening after work. "The potential for that is huge!" Fiona said.

What have people been saying about York's libraries during lockdown?

During lockdown, Explore launched an online 'Missed My Library' Survey in which they asked people to say what they enjoyed most (and missed most) about their local library.

There have been more than 1100 responses so far. Here are some of the things people have said:

  • “I have really missed the 'buzz' of people using the building, the giggling of the children during their visits to the library, the actual handling of books but most of all the staff.”
  • “I have made many friends through library activities - reading, talking in the cafe, singing and Spanish group. Life has been very lonely since lockdown for those of us who live alone and especially the disabled.”
  • “Lack of local presence in my village has been really sad. I love using the library and meeting people as I go. The staff are always helpful and knowledgeable and I have missed this support. I know our library in Strensall is small and social distancing will be a struggle but I am really looking forward to having this service again.”
  • “Libraries are wonderful, they're beacons of civilisation, and York Library is an especially good one. I appreciate what the librarians do for us. I love reading, and not being able to 'feed the mind' properly during lockdown is so, so frustrating.”