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WA Libraries Find Ways to Help Public Despite Pandemic

Seattle Public Library branches are beginning to allow access to their restrooms. (RAMIRO/Flickr)
Seattle Public Library branches are beginning to allow access to their restrooms. (RAMIRO/Flickr)
April 24, 2020

SEATTLE -- Libraries across Washington continue to serve communities despite having to close their doors during the coronavirus outbreak.

Pierce County Library System Executive Director Georgia Lomax says libraries are still performing many of the essential services they were before COVID-19, from offering job resources and book recommendations to courses online and by phone.

They're also focused on tools for students who suddenly find themselves going to school at their kitchen tables.

"We're providing homework help," says Lomax. "Lots of resources so that they can find information, do reports, study."

A new Public Library Association survey shows 76% of libraries have extended their online renewal policies, 74% have expanded online materials, and 61% have added virtual programming.

This week is National Library Week.

Elisa Murray, digital communication strategist with the Seattle Public Library, says its branches are going to start offering restroom access. Seattle Public Library also has Wi-Fi hot-spot programs at numerous tiny villages around the city.

Murray says they're continuing to provide social services for the public as well.

"Our community resource specialists connect vulnerable residents to shelter and food, utility assistance, as well as other resources and can answer all kinds of questions," says Murray.

Eventually, there will be life after COVID-19. Ramiro Salazar, president of the Public Library Association, says libraries are gearing up to reopen once it's deemed safe, which will be determined by their local authorities.

He says some might begin by offering curbside or "grab-and-go" service.

"The next phase is where, gradually, we will be able to accommodate people going into the building, but that will have to be very much managed in terms of how many people come in," says Salazar - who is also the director of the San Antonio Public Library. "Programs will probably be the last activity that libraries will be offering."

Salazar adds that the CARES Act provides some relief for libraries, but says it isn't enough. Members of Congress are circulating a letter calling for more support for libraries in the next relief package.

Disclosure: American Library Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Census, Education. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA