Juggling Act: The new room divider amid pandemic — plexiglass

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

One look at the plexiglass at my local library this week and my heart sank. Our society may have reopened but our new way of life is anything but "normal." 

Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, cases are going back up and we’ve become a plexiglass world. It surrounds cashiers, restaurant to-go areas, now even librarians. It’s become ubiquitous — a thin barrier that will somehow keep germs out but not anxiety.

Even the decorations wear face masks at the West Bloomfield Township Main Library.

As much as we long for a return to our old lives — whatever that means — this pandemic has other ideas. That wasn’t clear to me — or probably any of us — in March. My husband and I did a Zoom cocktail hour with a group of close friends about two weeks into the lockdown, taking turns sharing what we most looked forward to doing once we could leave our homes.

I imagined going to a restaurant for a leisurely meal and a drink. Restaurants are open now but I still don’t feel comfortable going inside one yet.

Our local library, meanwhile, finally reopened last week after a nearly three-month shutdown. Arrows now guide patrons down aisles in one direction, plexiglass surrounds the children’s librarian booth and even the cafe area is closed. Computer stations have been shut down. Patrons are asked to stay 45 minutes at most.

“I hate arrows!” my son announced, not used to being told what direction he had to walk in one of his favorite places. 

I am and will always be a library person. It’s one of the places I feel most at home. Pre-pandemic, it wasn’t uncommon for my family to visit our local library — which is within walking distance to our house — multiple times a week.

But the library doesn’t feel like an escape anymore. It feels like a place to make a quick visit and get out — quickly.

At the Baldwin Library in Birmingham, which reopened to the public July 6, they have what's called "Grab & Go" services. Occupancy is limited to 55 patrons and materials are quarantined for 72 hours before they are put back into circulation, according to its website. Its public desks have plexiglass.

As students prepare to return to school in the fall (hopefully), plexiglass will also likely be in schools where social distancing isn’t an option. My son's school in Oakland County plans to have plexiglass in classrooms so teachers can work with students in small groups.

But surreal as these dividers may feel, like masks, they're something we have to accept. If we commit to doing everything we can now to fight this virus and keep each other safe, maybe “normal” won’t be  far off.