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Libraries Search For Alternatives As Coronavirus Close Doors

library bookshelves
Libraries are trying to find ways to serve people, mainly online, now that they've had to temporarily close their doors due to the spread of COVID-19.

Libraries across Florida are closing their doors as COVID-19 continues to sweep across the country.

The Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative posted on its website that all locations will be shut down until further notice, suspending all holds and closing book drops, and will not receive returns or donated items.

Macdonald-Kelce Library closed after the University of Tampa, where the library is located, notified students and faculty that it would be moving classes completely online for the rest of the semester.

“We’re still scrambling to get the word out,” said Marlyn Pethe, director at Macdonald-Kelce. “Once we got the word back that students weren’t coming back to the campus, we started moving right away.”

The library, like many others in the Tampa area, will provide an online catalog and delivery services for those who want - or need - books during the closure

But the people most hurt by this, Pethe said, will be those who rely on libraries for their ability to get online. Unfortunately, there is not much libraries can do right now because of the implementation of social distancing to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, she said.

“It is truly unfortunate because it’s contact and we’re trying to be helpful on both sides,” Pethe said. “But certainly, if they called us… we would do the research and either mail it to them or something like that.”

The Florida Library Association, which postponed its annual conference from May to October, is calling for all public and academic libraries in the state to close their doors until "guidance from public health officials indicates the risk from COVID-19 has significantly subsided."

“While typically 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,” the FLA said in a statement. “Because containment works best when all organizations participate, many libraries and other cultural organizations are deciding to close while the schools are closed.”

Pethe said she was surprised how positive the reaction has been since the announcement of the library’s closure.

But with no end in sight, for librarians like Pethe, it's uncharted waters.

“People understand why we’re doing it and that we’re trying to be helpful, but it’s just hard,” Pethe said. “It’s hard for librarians to do this. That’s not how we were trained.”

Dylan Rudolph is the WUSF Radio News Intern for the spring 2020 semester.
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