The Cuyahoga County Public Library and the Geauga County Public Library have been closed since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Although neither library system as of early this week had announced a reopening date, they continue to offer services virtually and engage with the community while the branches are closed.

The Geauga public library trustees are finalizing a plan to begin offering some curbside services starting May 18, according to the library’s Marketing and Communications Manager Patrick Culliton. Only employees would be permitted to enter the buildings. Director of the Geauga County Public Library Ed Worso said that 99 of the library system’s 180 employees were furloughed indefinitely effective May 10.

“It was like a calamity day,” Mr. Worso said of all branch employees who were sent home with pay due to Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay at home order in March. “They’ve been doing continuing education and they’ve been holding virtual events for our community.”

The public library fund is 1.7 percent of the state’s gross revenue fund tax, which had a significant revenue drop in April, Mr. Worso said. That fund makes up one third of the Geauga library system’s operating budget.

The Geauga public library system has a branch in Bainbridge, Chardon, Chester, Middlefield, Newbury and Thompson. A new Bainbridge library is being built next to the current one at Snyder Road and East Washington Street. A new Thompson library is also being built at 6645 Madison Road, Mr. Culliton said.

There are branches of the Cuyahoga public library in Solon, Chagrin Falls, Gates Mills and Pepper Pike. Cuyahoga laid off 303 part-time and seasonal employees in April and reduced the hours by 50 percent of the remaining 560 workers on May 4.

Both library systems have taken steps to shift as much as possible to virtual services. Communications and External Relations Director for the Cuyahoga County Public Library Hallie Rich said that the system immediately updated its website and made it more user-friendly when looking for digital collections like e-books, e-audiobooks and streaming services for movies and music from OverDrive, Hoopla and Naxxos.

“From the start we knew that while buildings are closed, the library is still open for business,” she said on May 7.

Mr. Culliton agreed, saying that the library has always had online services, but now is the time to make them known. He also said that librarians are working from home to make sure children still have access to programs that usually take place at the library.

For example, librarians pre-record a read-aloud of a children’s book three times a week and each video receives more than 1,000 views. Mr. Culliton said that one staff member was supposed to host a program to teach people how to preserve family documents and photos to study genealogy. Instead, she made a PowerPoint presentation and posted it to the library system’s YouTube channel, GeaugaLibrary. Creativebug is also popular for both library systems, a service that offers video tutorials for arts and crafts.

Both library systems have had successful virtual book recommendation sessions. Ms. Rich said that a Cuyahoga librarian hosts “What to Read” live on Facebook every Wednesday at 8 p.m. The librarians do “rapid fire reading recommendations.” On the Geauga library Facebook page, a librarian makes a post to begin “GCPL Reader’s Happy Hour” Wednesdays at 6 p.m. then people can comment what their book recommendations are.

“These are things that we’ve been forced to innovate, but we will continue these after [the closure] ends,” Mr. Culliton said on Friday. He said that access to the library’s digital materials, such as Overdrive and Hoopla, increased 40 percent in April 2020 compared to April 2019. There was also a 216 percent increase in new patrons from March 2020 to April 2020.

Both library systems offer a virtual library card to use the virtual resources. The Cuyahoga library waived the requirement to be at least 18 years old to have a library card. Ms. Rich said that the Cuyahoga library has access to a subscription called tutor.com, which is free, live homework help.

“There are a lot of parents who are trying to be their kids’ teachers,” she said, since Gov. DeWine ordered that schools close for in-person classes since March. “Tutor.com is a tremendous resource.”

Ms. Rich and Mr. Culliton said that the libraries will reopen in phases, starting with curbside service, such as reopening the book drop-offs. Both said that employees will be using personal protective equipment, and everyone must follow social distancing guidelines.

Mr. Worso added that the Columbus Metropolitan Library partnered with Battelle, a research and development organization, to study the coronavirus’s lifespan on different types of library materials. He said that there are no conclusions yet.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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