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Open Mic: Why are libraries closed during pandemic?

Sonoma County's library director weighs in

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By Ann Hammond


On March 13, in response to the rapidly growing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Sonoma County Library made the difficult decision to cancel events taking place in our libraries. A few days later we closed all library facilities, in compliance with the county shelter-in-place order.

No library director ever wants to close a library. It’s a heartbreaking choice, but staying closed is the right thing to do, to protect the public and our staff. The closure is all-encompassing. We are unable to offer curbside pickup for books and other materials, or accept returns of borrowed materials (although all due dates have been extended).

The county’s Emergency Operations Center issued a statement. It reads, in part:

“Librarians should be home and sheltered in place. They are not essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Library staff are not equipped to safely handle physical books and interact with the public. We must weigh our desire for the pleasure of reading with the health risk to the librarians. Library patrons are reminded that there are books available electronically through our public library system.”

Sonoma County is not alone in this regard. The largest library associations in the nation, including the American Library Association and the California Library Association, are strongly recommending that libraries suspend operations during this time, while we do our part to slow the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, the Sonoma County Library is working diligently to plan how to reopen quickly and effectively when it is safe, and we are adding new and exciting materials to our 24/7 online library. Visit sonomalibrary.org to access tens of thousands of electronic books, audiobooks, TV shows, movies, magazines, instructional videos, research databases and more. Your kids can even watch cartoons and animated storybooks. We have Spanish-language resources as well.

We thank everyone who misses their library. We miss you, too and we will be so happy to see you in our branches when we reopen!

Ann Hammond is the Sonoma County Library Director. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write to openmic@bohemian.com.

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