San Jose Public Libraries to close in wake of coronavirus pandemic
City officials decided this afternoon to close all public libraries in San Jose beginning tomorrow. Photo by Nicholas Chan.

City officials are closing all San Jose Public Libraries beginning Tuesday after Santa Clara County and five other Bay Area counties issued a shelter in place mandate, ordering residents to stay at home as much as possible to decrease the spread of coronavirus.

“We’re following the county of Santa Clara order along with several other counties in the Bay Area so that we prevent the spread of this virus in our community,” San Jose spokesperson Rosario Neaves said. “This is unprecedented.”

Officials said all 25 library branches across San Jose will close. It’s unclear when they’ll reopen, and Neaves said some “nonessential” employees will be shifted to other roles.

“The library has full time and part time employees,” Neaves said. “We are committed to ensuring that everyone is paid during this closure but of course there are some nuances there.”

With a looming deadline to finish her book “The Left-Armed Corps: Writings by Amputee Civil War Veterans,” San Jose State University literature professor Allison Johnson checked out a few books about important battles and generals at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library on Monday, just before city officials decided to shut down public libraries.

“I was talking to my mom before and she said ‘be sure you wash your hands,’” Johnson said. “And I’m fully planning on using a wipe on these books and washing my hands vigorously. I needed to return some books that were due and then get some books so I just went in and got out. I definitely felt uncomfortable when I was in there. I was like, ‘oh God, I have to touch the elevator.’”

San Jose resident Bill Lakatos visits the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. library on Monday. Photo by Nicholas Chan.

Wearing blue latex gloves, San Jose resident Bill Lakatos checked out the book “To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment.”

“I’m supposed to be home,” Lakatos said. “I need something to do.”

The Santa Clara County Library District closed its eight branches on Saturday. Libraries in cities like Palo Alto and Los Gatos have also suspended operations. By Tuesday, libraries in San Jose will be closed until further notice.

While libraries were open on Monday, staff and volunteers were encouraged to adopt preventative measures, including washing their hands frequently, using gloves and wiping down self-checkout machines, elevators and door handles.

“I found it was more effective to just wash my hands really frequently with soap and water,” MLK Library page Carol Valentine said. “For one thing, the gloves make your hand hot and sweaty. It wasn’t comfortable to work that way. I touch things with my gloves, then the gloves are probably contaminated. So (it’s) better to just wash in every opportunity throughout the day.”

Visitors at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library on Monday. Photo by Nicholas Chan.

Some residents said the city unnecessarily exposed people to the virus by not closing the libraries earlier. Nonetheless, some employees and visitors were glad that the MLK library was open on Monday amidst the pandemic.

“It serves a lot of people,” Valentine said. “I think especially about the homeless who are the vulnerable out at night time and not able to rest and they’re able to have a safe place during the day that is warm and has access to restrooms and where they can build up their strength to go back out at night time.”

For the past two weeks, T.S. Rangarajan, a retired engineer from India who was visiting his son in San Jose, attended language classes like Turkish, Italian and Spanish at the library. On Monday, he showed up for an Arabic class only to find an empty classroom.

“I don’t know if I can stop my work just because there is (coronavirus),” Rangarajan said.

Contact Nicholas Chan at [email protected] or follow @nicholaschanhk on Twitter.

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