Stacey tells the story of operating a public library during a pandemic.
Kent Free Library is a “school district library” serving the same area as Kent City Schools and governed by seven trustees appointed by the Board of Education of Kent. The area includes about 34,000 residents, but there are almost 36,000 card carrying members of KFL indicating that many outside our district value what our library has to offer. KFL is one of 251 public libraries in Ohio. Funding comes from the State of Ohio Public Library Fund, a local continuing tax levy, and by member’s fines and fees.
During the pandemic year of 2020, when KFL was completely closed for weeks and subsequently operated with many restrictions. Visitation, community events including story time for children, and items borrowed all dropped double digits as compared with the previous year. For example, in 2019, about 215,000 people visited the facility; in 2020, only 107,000 visited, a decrease of 49%.
The pandemic created three distinct phases of library operation so far:
March-April 2020 – Unknown
May-June 2020 – Curbside Service
June 2020-March 2021 – Library Express
During the Unknown phase, when we were figuring out how to navigate through a unique and confusing period of time, the facility was closed and staff were at home. All fines and fees were waived and no items were due to be returned. The 3D printers on site were used to produce face shields and many were donated locally. Zoom meetings were established and plans were made for virtual programming.
During the Curbside Express phase, a process was created to deliver contact-free services for patrons. Library patrons could request items in advance, pull into the parking lot, and get them delivered to their cars.
During the Library Express phase, limited in-building access was available with a “grab and go” approach. Returned items were quarantined.
Since that time, KFL has reduced restrictions as vaccinations have enabled a return to normalcy. Many of the successful virtual and self-serve programs will be retained as we go forward. Current plans are for normal operations to resume in the Fall.