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The Building May be Closed, but the Library Is Open!

Digital e-books and audiobooks, online learning services, and amazing projects are still just a click away.

David Shumaker
Mar 26 · 4 min read

As our society copes with the COVID-19 pandemic, many public institutions are closed: schools, recreation centers, and yes, libraries. If you’re following your library on social media, receiving their email updates, visiting their websites, you may have already seen a message that the library is closed. But take a closer look. Is it really closed? Or is the building closed, while in another sense, the library is still open?

The library is still open because, in our online and highly connected society, libraries provide many of their services and resources via the Internet. For example:

· You might not be able to borrow a book, but you can download an ebook

· You might not be able to attend a program, but you can stream a video

· You might not be able to walk up and ask the librarian for help, but the library might be providing help by telephone, chat, or email

· You might not be able to sit inside with your laptop and use the library’s wifi connection, but the connection might work from the parking lot

Here’s a sample, drawn from library websites*, of how some public libraries are staying open, even while their buildings are closed:

In Washington DC, the DC Public Library is promoting its “goDigital” page with “more than 15 million free online movies, eBooks, music and more … all free with your library card”.

The Red Hook, NY, public library, located in the town of Red Hook in the Hudson Valley, says, “The building is closed to the public, but your librarians are still here for you. Call us with questions, when you need tech help, or just to check in. We care how you’re doing.”They also highlight their “HomeAccess” service, with digital magazines, newspapers, eBooks, eAudiobooks and more, provided through their participation in the Mid-Hudson Library System.

San Francisco Public Library’s website has a page devoted to its response to the COVID-19 virus. It provides a summary of pertinent information about the epidemic, links for news updates, and reminds visitors of the library’s “robust digital services” that “give cardholders 24/7 free access to ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, movies, classes, and more.”

The Pioneer Library System in Norman, OK, has added a Coronavirus link with links to authoritative information to its homepage top menu banner. Its “Downloadables” page includes a link to its app, so that patrons can use the library’s digital resources on the go via Android and iPhone.

Just south of Wichita, KS, the Derby Public Library has replaced its usual homepage banner with a link to its Public Safety Response Plan. Effective March 17, it implemented Phase 2 of the plan, under which the library is closed, but patrons can pick up materials at a drive-thru service point. The Phase 2 plan adds that, “The library’s digital services and online learning are always available, either through the library website or through the appropriate apps for your smart device.” And should it be necessary to move to Phase 3, the library’s plan states that while drive-thru service will cease, “Digital library services will remain available to patrons.”

Howard County, Maryland is a suburban county between Washington DC and Baltimore. Its county library system is highlighting its Coronavirus COVID-19 information page with links to authoritative information about the epidemic as well as a reminder that “HCLS has a vast collection of free, online digital materials that are easily accessible from home with your library card”. Anticipating that some county residents might be turning to library resources for the first time, the message from CEO Tonya Aikens offers reassuring guidance: “If you don’t yet have a library card, apply online and use your temporary number.”

In the Denver area, the Douglas County Library is highlighting online storytimes provided by Storyblocks, a project of the Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy. It’s also featuring free cardholder access to online audio-guided workouts, language classes, and crafts classes.

Libraries are a vital part of the community, and during times of crisis, they show their commitment to community service more than ever. These and other libraries around the country are stepping up and finding ways to serve their patrons even during this unprecedented epidemic. So, what’s YOUR public library doing? Visit its website and check it out. You might just discover that even if the library building is closed, the library is still very much Open.

*All examples as of March 18.


Stories about libraries and librarians around America.

David Shumaker

Written by

Dave is a retired professor and former corporate information manager. He is the author of “The Embedded Librarian” and many articles on library services.


Stories about libraries and librarians around America. We cover the breadth of experiences that people have through their libraries, and showcase the amazing people who work there.

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