Dr. Jack Kartez, center, waits in line to check out books at the Portland Public Library June 30. It was his first visit to the library in 15 months. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Heidi Bouchard had been waiting more than a year to get a library card to the Portland Public Library and check out what Maine’s largest library has to offer.

The Lyman resident finally got that chance June 30, a little more than a week after the library reopened to the public after its 15-month pandemic shutdown.

“This is my first time here. I’ve been waiting for the library to reopen for in-person browsing so I could get into the library to check it out,” she said

Impressed with what she found and eager to check out other parts of the library on subsequent visits, Bouchard left with a stack of books for her children, including titles by Dr. Seuss and Maine author/illustrator Chris Van Dusen.

Portland Public Library Director of Advancement Zoe Scott said the reopening has gone well and patrons, who are limited to 30-minute visits and must wear a mask, are happy to have the library open again.

“We had a women come in with a toddler. She was in tears, she was so happy to be back here,” Scott said. “This is a shared space, a shared resource and a place we where can all come together to explore our curiosity.”

The building had been reopened for six days in March, but when the number of COVID-19 cases started to rise again statewide. With vaccination rates up and positive cases down, Scott is hopeful the library can stay open for good.

“During the pandemic, the community was so supportive. It has been great to see how much this library means to people,” Scott said.

Portland Public Library offered patrons the opportunity to get library materials through curbside pickup, but last week reopened to in-person browsing. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Dr. Jack Kartez, a longtime patron from South Paris, said the Portland Public Library is “a vital resource for so many people in the area.”

“Its renovation a decade ago made this such a showpiece for the community. It’s wonderful to see it reopened,” said Kartez, who was visiting the library June 30 for the first time in 15 months.

He said he stops by the library whenever he is in Portland, either to pick up something to read or to attend a program.

The library has not yet resumed its on-site programming, such as story hours.

“We are doing this one step at a time and look forward to when we can offer in-person programming again,” Scott said.

Patron Peichi Liu said it is the youth programming that she has misses the most.

“It’s definitely a positive thing to be back here. I am more than happy. It will be nice to go to kids activities again,” she said as she exited the library with her 7-year-old son Drusus.

The library is operating on an abbreviated schedule but could expand its hours later this month. The Burbank branch reopened this week and the Riverton branch is expected to reopen by late July.

Books and library materials were available to patrons through a curbside pickup throughout the pandemic, a service that will be discontinued at the main branch, Burbank and Peaks Island and soon Riverton. While that service was well received, Scott said there is no replacement for browsing the collection in person and finding books you perhaps were not looking for.

For more information, visit portlandlibrary.com.

Comments are not available on this story.