Libraries can still be a resource even when closed

By Igor Studenkov For Chronicle Media

SWAN Library Services, which is a group of 97 libraries that share resources is encouraging patrons to use their online resources while libraries are closed.

Libraries have been a common gathering area for the community. But with the coronavirus outbreak and Illinois under a “Stay-at-Home” order by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, people and libraries have to adjust until at least through April 7.

But, in the meantime, it isn’t as if the libraries are leaving their patrons out to dry. They are encouraging patrons to use online resources and waiving fees and fines. Some have even taken steps to make it easier for patrons to use online resources and allow patrons to register for library cards online, to ensure that they can get access to those resources without leaving home.


Suburban Libraries

The Illinois Library Association represents 3,000 public, academic and school libraries throughout the state.

Before Pritzker’s announcement March 20, the ILA released a statement March 18 recommending that all libraries that haven’t closed by that point should close “for a period of time,” arguing that protecting public health outweighs whatever benefits it can bring as a community resource. The recommendation extended to areas that haven’t had any coronavirus cases.

“While normally public libraries may invite children to come to the library in the event of an emergency school closing, this is not the best course of action when trying to curb a contagious disease,” it stated. “ Libraries are a gathering place in the community and on campus, frequently bringing together significant numbers of people. In order to minimize opportunities for transmission, and to protect both community members’ health and library employees, the best service we can offer is protecting our community with social distancing, canceling programs, extra cleanings, and closing, regardless of whether there are  known cases in your library’s service area or on your campus.”

During this period, libraries have taken different approaches.

Niles Maine District Library serves the Village of Niles, most of unincorporated Maine Township and a small portion of Northfield Township. It closed on March 15. Patrons were able to pick up their holds on March 16, and while all late fees were waived, patrons could return materials. The library expanded some online resources, expanding the number of downloads patrons could get through computers and apps, providing access to ancestry database and Kanopy Kids online streaming service for kids’ movies and TV shows.

The Gail Borden Library District, which serves south Elgin and portions of Hoffman Estates, Streamwood and Bartlett, joined other libraries in emphasizing online resources. But while events and programs were canceled, the staff has been using Facebook Live to stream kids story times, lectures and regular daily updates from Denise Raleigh, head of the library district’s public relations and communications division.

Check your local library’s website to find out what online resources are available while they’re closed.


Chicago Public Library

The Chicago Public Library system is made up of one central library — the Harold Washington Library, three regional libraries — Sulzer Regional Library, Woodson Regional Library and the currently under renovation Legler Regional Library, and 77 neighborhood branch libraries. The main and regional libraries are meant to provide longer hours and a wider range of services than neighborhood branches.

Originally, the intent was to keep all of the branches open, even as schools, restaurants, bars were closed and most of Chicago Park District facilities were significantly scaled back. The Chicago Public Library employees spent the weekend of March 14-15 deep-cleaning and reopened on March 16. But that became moot Friday and the Chicago Public Library system closed all its libraries at noon on Saturday.

The Chicago Public Library already provided a range of online resources and downloadable apps its patrons could use. That includes access to e-books, streaming movies, audiobooks and music, access to databases and even access to software that teaches languages and facilitates homework help. For Chicagoans who don’t have a library card, the system emphasized that they could apply for an “e-card” online, which would allow them to get an account and access the resources without leaving the house.