County officials say Mercer County Library System staff are working hard at making the nine branch libraries and procedures safe, and anticipates a reopening, with limited services, capacity and hours, this fall.

Although the library branches — located in the municipalities of East Windsor, Ewing, Hightstown, Hopewell, Lawrence, Robbinsville, and West Windsor — are not yet open to the public, they are serving their patrons with delivery of library materials, and tens of thousands of hours of live virtual programming and events, including an online summer reading program, instructor-driven computer classes, and YouTube videos. During the summer months, library staff had also conducted a food drive, donating more than 900 items to the local food pantries run by Rise and HomeFront.

“While challenging, it has also been exhilarating to find the Mercer County Library System could, as an organization, be so incredibly adaptable and resilient,” County Executive Brian M. Hughes said. “The library has always striven to be the cornerstone of its communities; however, I believe it will emerge from this experience with a deeper understanding of its true relevancy to our communities.”

Since June 23, MCLS has facilitated the delivery of more than 252,000 items through almost 18,000 “contactless” pick-up appointments. Initially, the library filled its backlog of almost 16,000 hold requests, but is now serving patrons in real time.

Pick-up hours are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Wednesday 1 to 7 p.m.; and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday hours will be expanded to 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. beginning Sept. 26.

During its closure, the library has issued more than 1,100 eCards, which allow patrons access to a plethora of electronic resources, eBooks, audiobooks, magazines, movies, comics and television shows. In addition, the library has added relevant content to its database offerings, including Brainfuse, a leading online tutoring provider, which serves a diversified client base of school- and college-age students, as well as standardized test takers and job seekers, and has increased its social media presence.

During the past six months, the library has seen an unprecedented 50 percent increase in the use of eBook and online audio and video services, with 182,000 e-circulations since March. Patrons can access the internet through the library’s free WiFi connection, outside the branches, seven days a week from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.

More than 83,000 items have been returned to the branch libraries through book and AV drops, which are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the convenience of patrons. The library will not be charging overdue fines for a full month after its reopening. Returned items are quarantined for 72 hours before re-shelving or circulating.

“The library has undergone an immense transformation in how it delivers its services to patrons over the past six months,” Hughes said. “Although the library has always maintained a hybrid of online and in-branch resources, its physical programming was exclusively in-person until its closure this past March.”

MCLS says it has worked to significantly increased its electronic database presence, and has initiated three new email services that include a college essay and resume review, and a personal readers’ advisory service, in addition to a chat feature to complement the already existing telephone and email reference services. The library recently began offering a remote printing service. While the Interlibrary Loan Department cannot lend books because the statewide delivery service has not yet been reinstated, it has begun to accept and fulfill article requests.