By MADDY VITALEWhen Gov. Phil Murphy gives the go-ahead to allow libraries to reopen, the Ocean City Free Public Library will be ready.Library officials have a five-phase plan geared toward keeping the patrons and staff safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while still providing what makes the library an epicenter of activity for the community.The library’s Board of Trustees, meeting remotely, unanimously approved resolutions Monday formalizing the “Best Practices for Re-Opening the OCFPL during the COVID-19 pandemic in five phases.”“Moving through these phases, we don’t know when phase five will come — or if it will come into play,” Board of Trustees President Jennifer Shirk said. “It will all depend on if there is another outbreak, a vaccine. We have to have a plan. This is the plan and it is similar to the state and federal government plan.”The governor tweeted that libraries and museums may open as early as the first week of July, library officials noted.But whether it is then, earlier or later, Shirk and OCFPL Director Karen Mahar said they have crafted a detailed proposal to ensure the library will have all of the needed safeguards in place.Masks, shields, self-checkout, sanitizing of the facility by staff and by a cleaning company, limited hours and a host of other safety protocols will be rolled out.Even before the library reopens, patrons will be able to utilize curbside pickup and the book mobile – when Murphy allows that initial part of the reopening. The hours of operation when it does open are still under consideration, officials said.The library is often a hub of activity for patrons, but with the plan in the wake of COVID-19, hours will be limited.Shirk gave an overview of the phases as they have been unfolding since the March closure and what will potentially follow:PHASE 1 – The library was closed in March and the book drop was also closed.PHASE 2 – In May, the library staff began preparing the building for when the building could reopen.PHASE 3 – Curbside pickup, including the book mobile, would be available and library staff would assist patrons.PHASE 4 – The facility reopens. Curbside pickup and the book mobile would remain options. Limited hours and other safety procedures would be instituted. Self-checkout would be encouraged. New signage and announcements would remind people the importance of social distancing.PHASE 5 – The library would conduct business more closely to how it did prior to the pandemic, while social distancing would continue and other safety measures.While the proposed phases are in place, both Mahar and Shirk emphasized that plans could be altered, depending on a number of variables.“This could change,” Mahar said. “Some things we are proposing might not work, but you have to be flexible.”Mahar commended the board of trustees and library staff for working together on a copious plan, which involved many meetings.Shirk echoed Mahar’s sentiments.“I am very pleased with all of the work Karen and her staff put in. We spent a lot of time making sure everything was up and running,” Shirk said. “Whatever the governor throws at us — partial opening, full opening — we are prepared.”Since the library closed to the public in March, patrons have had an array of virtual programs, classes, events and activities to keep them engaged, Mahar explained.“We have extended the library cards. We have instant digital cards for people who didn’t have library cards,” Mahar said. “We continue to add to the audio and e-books and virtual programming and book clubs.”The number of patrons visiting the library website is proof, she said, that people are utilizing the services.“You could see with the closure in March to May 31, our circulation online increased,” she pointed out. “We signed up 221 people since April for our virtual programming.”To visit the library website, go to www.oceancitylibrary.org.The Ocean City Free Public Library is located in the Community Center at 1735 Simpson Ave. Ocean City Free Public Library Director Karen Mahar, shown in a 2019 photo, says the staff is working hard to get ready to once again welcome patrons.