Like many institutions that welcome the public into their buildings, libraries have had to rethink how to serve patrons during the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the last few decades, libraries have made a concerted effort to make much of their material available online. Providing patrons access to that digital collection has proved invaluable in allowing libraries to “remain open,” even if their doors are physically closed.
“When the decision was made based on what we were hearing from federal, state and local government on health guidelines that we needed to follow, one of the first things we did was to think about what public services we could offer on those online platforms,” Akron-Summit County Public Library Deputy Director Barbara White said.
Akron-Summit County Library Main Library at night [Maguire Photographs/Akron-Summit County Library]
Additionally, both libraries are offering online story time for children, with guest readers ranging from U.S. Sen. Rob Portman to the librarians themselves. Keeping the story time tradition going during this health crisis is about more than just hearing a book read online.
“Online story time gives us an opportunity for families to connect, for people, even at a distance, to be sharing a common moment. Story times are recorded, and because we know children like to revisit stories that resonate with them our customers have an opportunity to scroll through our Facebook page and revisit those story times as often as they would like,” White said.
One thing libraries can’t offer at this time is access to computers, but both Akron-Summit and Cleveland Public are providing services to allow people to stay connected.
Main stars of Cleveland Public Library's Main Library [Cleveland Public Library]
“People can access our Wi-Fi signal from outside of our building. We've also extended our expiration dates for library cards and those patrons that have the hotspots checked out, they can continue to use those,” Cleveland Public Library Assistant Director for Public Services Robin Wood said.
Akron-Summit is continuing to provide its “Ask a Librarian” service online as well as a special service for people in need of tech support.
Cleveland Public is in the process of implementing “LibAnswers,” which will provide patrons with online references about subjects including COVID-19.
The libraries offer online “e-cards” for those patrons who either can’t find their current card or don’t have one, as well, taking a similar approach to returning material that is due for return.
“Anyone that has books or other materials out right now checked out should just keep them. We want them to hold on to them until we reopen and will extend the return dates on those. Also, anyone that has an ‘on hold’ on material right now, that ‘on hold’ will stay in place until we reopen,” Wood said.