Following the initial closure of the physical locations of the Adams County Public Library system on March 13th, local library staff has continued working hard to serve local residents. According to Director Nick Slone, maintaining safety has been a top priority during this public health crisis.
“When the pandemic took hold in Ohio in mid-March, it became clear that maintaining safety in a typical public library environment would be difficult if not impossible,” said Slone. “In 2019, 147,809 library patrons visited our facilities. With bans on public gatherings and social distancing requirements, we knew we needed to drastically refit our facilities to accommodate our patrons safely.” “In our initial closing phase, the “Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM)” Covid-19 research project was initiated by OCLC, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and Batelle Institute to provide public libraries with information about how to safely reopen our buildings and handle library materials.” Slone continued, “At the time, it was impossible to get the necessary cleaning products to effectively clean the thousands of materials that circulate in and out of each location daily, and in the days leading up to closing the buildings, patrons were increasingly asking us about how we were preventing the virus from spreading through materials.”
Slone said that Battelle found the virus detectable on the most-frequently used library material surfaces, like hardback books, paperback books, the pages inside of books, and DVD covers, for up to 3 days. The initial recommendation was to quarantine library materials for at least 72 hours, which addressed multiple logistical issues, including a lack of sanitation supplies, the cost of those supplies, and the inability to disinfect each interior page of every book that’s returned.
According to the library, even though they did not have foot traffic or door count totals to report during the physical building closure, nearly 16,000 digital materials were accessed and/or downloaded from March through August. In August alone, nearly 10,000 physical library materials were in circulation using curbside and drive-thru services.
The library also offered additional services offered such as staffing a tech line, recording virtual stories on YouTube, hosted Radio Readers on C103 radio, just to name a few. Even with those services, some local parents have been upset that the libraries were not open for foot traffic since school started back in session last month. Specifically, the Informer was contacted by a few local families regarding the issue because their children were having accessibility issues to high speed internet with the closure of the physical branches.
“Lack of broadband access is a much larger issue, outside of the library’s constraints. For years, libraries have done their best to provide Internet access to patrons, especially so that they can access digital library services,” said Slone. “While we strive to provide as much Internet access as possible (and we do provide free WiFi in our parking lots 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., 7 days per week, 365 day a year), we are currently limited by the number of patrons we can safely allow in our building at one time. Unattended minors pose a significant risk to our staff and other patrons, so all children age 16 and under currently must be accompanied by an adult while visiting the library.” Slone added, “I can certainly understand the frustration of parents, especially since public libraries have marketed our computer lab services heavily for years, and it’s something we’re dedicated to providing, moving forward.”
Slone said that the library system would be re-opening on September 21st offering curbside and drive-thru service for picking-up holds, as well as appointment services for in-library collection browsing, computer use, printing, faxing, and other services, five days per week.
“The motivation behind every decision I make as Library Director, and each decision of the Board of Trustees, is to provide the highest possible return on investment for the taxpayers of Adams County. In the last two years, we’ve provided a 7-to-1 and a 5-to-1 return on investment on taxpayer dollars, respectively,” said Slone. “Right now, we are also charged with protecting the health and safety of our staff, patrons, and community.”