Libraries Remain Open Amid Coronavirus Concerns

A patron browses books at the Hough Branch of Cleveland Public Library. [Justin Glanville / ideastream]
A patron browses books at the Hough Branch of Cleveland Public Library. [Justin Glanville / ideastream]

Libraries in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County said Wednesday they'll remain open during the coronavirus outbreak, in part so that community resources remain available to patrons.

Cleveland Public Library currently has no plans to close any of its 27 branches, but has formed a task force to monitor the situation, said Robin Wood, the library's assistant director of public services.

"We're really taking it on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis," Wood said.

Both the Cleveland Public Library and Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL) say they're doubling down on cleaning "high traffic" and "high touch" areas such as computer keyboards and circulation desks. All large public events — including author visits and talks — will be canceled.

So far, neither library plans to curtail circulation of physical objects — including books and DVDs — despite research that coronavirus can remain viable on plastic for up to nine days. But both said they would consider imposing a moratorium if the outbreak continues.

Cleveland Public Library gets more than 45,000 visitors per week across its branches, and circulates an average of 47,000 books, DVDs, magazines and CDs per week. CCPL circulates more than 15 million items per year, giving it the highest per capita circulation rate in the nation according to a 2019 analysis by Library Journal.

Library computers are the only way many patrons can get online, Wood said. Branches also offer resources for help filing taxes and registering to vote.

"Being open to the community is important to us and it's important to the community," she said. "So we're looking at this situation very cautiously to make sure that if for some reason we do need to close, it's because we really don't have another choice."

The CCPL, which also has 27 branches, said it, too, plans to keep its buildings open unless advised otherwise by federal or state agencies.

Tracy Strobel, the CCPL's executive director, said she hasn't seen or heard about any drop-off in library usage so far.

"I was just down in the Parma-Snow branch and was saying to my colleague I was surprised how busy it is," Strobel said. "We probably had 18 or 20 people using our computers, you know, at noon on a Wednesday."

That kind of usage is all the more reason, she said, to keep the library's resources available as long as possible.

"People depend on our spaces for internet access, [but also] we're feeding kids after school," Strobel said. "So especially if schools end up closing, we'll be a place kids can turn if they're hungry."

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