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Never checked out: Public libraries continue to step up as pandemic nears year 2 mark

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Posted at 5:16 PM, Jan 10, 2022

PARMA, Ohio — For public library systems across the state, the still-ongoing pandemic has forced branches big and small to take on new roles and provide new services to the community, including distributing hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 test kits. Each and every time they’ve been asked, librarians have maintained vital connections to the communities they serve.

In the month of December, the Ohio Department of Health provided roughly 1.4 million rapid COVID test kits. The state’s public library systems distributed nearly half of them.

“At various points [of the pandemic], we’ve had to do things that you don’t normally think of at the library,” said Hallie Rich of the Cuyahoga County Public Library system. “I think people are drawn to the library and the information science profession because, fundamentally, they want to help people.”

Despite the COVID-19 related lockdowns early on in 2020, the Cuyahoga County library system continued to serve county residents through its digital and online offerings. Officials said there was a 22% increase in usage of the system's digital collection. In its annual review, the library system reported nearly five million visitors in 2019, eclipsing the number of people who attended Indians, Cavs, and Browns games combined.

CCPL'S free public wifi was also an essential tool for many families who had to transition to remote working and learning. Those that were on the wrong side of the digital divide found weren’t left behind. The CCPL reported 70,000 connections to its public wifi system during the lockdowns.

Then, libraries began offering assistance to people looking to book vaccine appointments.

“It just underscores the need in the community and really the critical role that libraries play in keeping people connected in so many ways,” Rich said. “If people didn’t realize it before, I think they certainly better understand it now: the important role that the library plays in building and strengthening those connections. They have a better appreciation for the important role that libraries play in fostering those connections, whether that’s connecting to technology or connecting to resources.”