By MADDY VITALE
The Ocean City Free Public Library has been a hub of activity, offering education, entertainment and company to its patrons year after year.
While COVID-19 has changed how the library enlightens its visitors, from shortened in-person hours to virtual sessions, it still will remain open to the public, explained library officials during a remote meeting of the OCFPL Board of Trustees on Monday.
Unlike county libraries, including Cape May County libraries that recently closed again amid the pandemic, Karen Mahar, OCFPL director, said the library staff is doing well and all safety protocols have been in place and are working.
She noted that the library will continue with the current, shortened hours of operation, however. They are Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and extended curbside hours Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Mahar said she felt it was a “wise choice” to keep with what seems to be working.
“Avalon is shut down again. Maybe we are just lucky that we have not been impacted closely,” Mahar noted. “No staff members or board (Board of Trustees) members have had COVID. We have had some close contacts and our managers and staff have handled it well.”
She explained that every morning, staff members fill out COVID-19 questionnaires.
Since the library reopened after the initial COVID-19 state shutdown on public buildings in the spring, the library has installed features to strictly adhere to safety requirements, including Plexiglas dividers, hand-sanitizing stations and self-checkout stations.
“We are not crazy busy — we are just steady,” Mahar said.
Mahar outlined some statistics. More than 4,427 patrons visited the library and 287 used the computer center in November.
“We have had no complaints or mask issues. People are taking out items and the curbside is working out well,” she said. “The staff is doing a really good job.”
Board of Trustees President Jennifer Shirk told the board that she was pleased with how the staff has been handling the library operations during this time.
“I am very proud of the library staff and everything they did this year,” Shirk said. “It has obviously been a very stressful year and a challenging year. And I think Karen and Leslie (Clark) have done their very best.”
But after thanking the staff, including Clark, the assistant library director, for their hard work during a difficult time, Shirk said she had some sad news to share – Clark’s retirement.
Clark retires at the end of the month.
Shirk reminisced about meeting Clark 15 years ago, when she would take her daughter, Juliette, to the library. It was then that the two would become friends and Clark would recommend that Shirk, a best-selling author, apply for the board president position.
Shirk said that she owed her gratitude to Clark for inspiring her to apply and thanked her for being such a wonderful librarian.
“You are a remarkable librarian. You are tremendous for the children. You will not only be missed by coworkers and the board, but the entire library,” Shirk said. “Congratulations on your retirement and we wish you well.”
Mahar told Clark that she was such an important part of the library.
“Leslie, I am going to miss you,” Mahar noted. “We are lucky, Leslie, that we have had you so long.”
On the OCFPL Facebook page there is an undated photo of Clark in a costume for story time with the children.
Then there are a few words about what she means to the library family.
“If you would like to join us in honoring all she has done for the library and our community during the past 41 years, you can email well wishes for her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop them off at the library. Leslie will be deeply missed, but we wish her all the best as she begins her next chapter.”
In honor of Clark’s retirement, Michael Allegretto, aide to Mayor Jay Gillian, presented via Zoom, a key to the city from the mayor.
Allegretto said that Clark has been an integral part of the library and its success over the years, and that she will be missed.
Then he said, “On behalf of the mayor, I want to thank you for your years of service to the town.”
Clark thanked everyone for their well-wishes and said she would not be a stranger and would come by to visit everyone.
Also on the agenda, Mahar announced that the state Library Bond Construction Act grant that could help fund the Ocean City library’s estimated $1.3 million renovation project was not approved.
“The first round of the Library Bond Construction Act grant awardees came out and we were not on the list,” Mahar said.
The city had already bonded for the project to renovate, update and expand the library’s second floor.
The building is about 30 years old. Here is a link to the project’s rendering: https://ocnjdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/library-renovation-rendering-2.pdf
The project will be done with or without the grants. However, Mahar said they will still look to reapply for funds.
She said she is awaiting details from the state on the second round of applications for the Library Bond Construction Act grant will begin.
Then she plans to contact Vince Bekier, the city’s director of operations and engineering, and Rachel Ballezzi, also of the engineering department, to work on resubmitting the grant proposal to the state library.
“The state library anticipates this to happen in early 2021,” Mahar added.
For more information about the Ocean City Free Public Library, visit www.oceancitylibrary.org