Library adapts to pandemic
When libraries and schools across Northeast Ohio started closing on March 13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Heights Libraries made the difficult decision to close its four branches. Over the weeks that followed, staff worked together remotely to figure out how to serve the Cleveland Heights-University Heights community safely.
“It was a strange and frustrating time,” said Nancy Levin, Heights Libraries director. “Our mission, our entire purpose, is to help people, to provide them with free services and materials to improve their lives. How do you do that from a distance, with closed buildings? Well, never underestimate determined library staff.”
Online services were immediately beefed up, with daily storytimes on the library’s Facebook page starting in early April, a new online reference form created in mid-April, and curated lists of resources for families and others created and posted on the library's website, www.heightslibrary.org, by the end of April. Digital resources and services were promoted through social media, e-mails and a mailing.
May brought the addition of curbside and lobby pickup of materials, and access to faxing and copying. Customers are required to wear masks if they enter a library building, but those who cannot, due to medical or religious reasons, are served curbside.
"There are more items and services available than many customers may realize,” said Levin, “especially for those customers who may not feel comfortable coming in to the buildings.”
While the library does not currently have print newspapers available, customers can access free online versions of daily and weekly papers, including The New York Times, the Call and Post, the Plain Dealer and the Cleveland Jewish News on its website.
Print magazines are available, and issues can be put on hold by calling the main number of any branch. Digital copies are also available through the website, as are movies, eBooks and audiobooks.
If customers don’t have Internet access at home, they can check out a wireless mobile hotspot, available at every branch. Heights Libraries recently obtained 80 more hotspots, to help customers who have previously depended on the library for high-speed Internet.
Customers can also ask staff to print materials for them, which they can then pick up in the lobby, just like a hold. Each branch handles this service a little differently, so customers are asked to call their favorite branch for instructions: Coventry, 216-321-3400; Lee Road, 216-932-3600; Noble, 216-291-5665; and University Heights, 216-321-4700.
Library staff hope that limited in-person browsing and computer use can start in mid-September, as long as Cuyahoga County does not progress from red to purple on the Ohio Department of Health’s (ODH) color-coded COVID-19 public health advisory system. The library will follow ODH guidelines when it opens, including limiting the number of people allowed in each building at one time, requiring all visitors over the age of 2 to wear masks, and maintaining social distancing of at least six feet.
“We are truly looking forward to offering as many services as possible, as long as we can do so safely,” said Levin.
Sheryl Banks is the communications manager for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library System.