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It’s time for libraries to go back to full use

We are disappointed that, despite the reopening of bars, hair salons, tattoo parlors and other locations where customers may visit, sit and spend time, many of our tax-supported public libraries are choosing not to allow visitors or library users to come inside.

Yes, we realize many libraries have continued to offer helpful online programs since early in Ohio’s shutdown triggered by COVID-19. And we understand many local library buildings now are offering curbside pickup for library materials that may be ordered in advance. Even the Warren-Trumbull County public library system, which now is allowing visitors to come in buildings, is limiting some of its important public services.

Indeed, these options are better than nothing; however, we believe strongly these programs still fall well short of the needs of our community to enter the buildings to gain access to materials and equipment that our tax dollars fund.

Residents have been waiting patiently during this pandemic for the opportunity to browse the literary collections inside or to find some quiet time to read or work. Folks who utilize the library system for meeting space and gathering locations for educational assistance or workforce development also have remained patient.

All these uses are critical. But perhaps the biggest void to arise from the libraries’ closures has been the absence of access to library computers and WiFi that is sorely needed — especially by those who, due either to finances or geography, live without personal computers or internet access at home.

We understand executives at some area libraries now are considering options to open the buildings for technology use including computers, printers, copiers and more. We understand concerns about things like social distancing or sanitizing work stations and reading materials. However, most other Mahoning Valley businesses now have reopened their doors, finding innovative ways to serve the needs of their customers.

We urge the library boards and management to find creative ways to do the same. Perhaps safety precautions could include providing and / or requiring visitors to wear rubber gloves and face masks. Perhaps computer work stations need to be relocated farther apart or surrounded by plexiglass partitions. Perhaps visitors might be required to make an appointment to use computers so library workers may police and limit access. Or perhaps it will mean assigning a staff member to sanitize the work stations between every user. We are certain there are other, possibly better ideas that are being exchanged among our experienced and educated library leaders or among other library systems across Ohio or even nationwide, and we hope they will be implemented soon.

Underserved members of our population especially rely on their neighborhood libraries to provide important educational and entertainment options.

Library directors must develop and implement plans to fully reopen their buildings and services with more urgency.

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