Why Are Chicago Public Libraries Still Open Amid Soaring COVID Rates?

From Book Riot:

Despite a COVID-19 positivity rate of over 15% and a stay-at-home order from Mayor Lori Lightfoot encouraging residents to “only leave home to go to work or school, or
for essential needs such as seeking medical care, going to the grocery store or pharmacy, picking up food, or receiving deliveries,” Chicago Public Libraries are still open for in-person browsing, reference, computer use, and more. Major library systems in other US cities including New York Public Library (with a city-wide positivity rate of about 2%), Los Angeles Public Library (with a city-wide positivity rate around 5%), and Houston Public Library (with a city-wide positivity rate around 8%) have closed to in-person services, instead remaining available for digital access as well as grab-and-go services.

. . . .

Mixed and unclear messages abound as to why the system continues to keep its doors open to public use, and employees across CPL are frustrated and scared for their safety and well-being. An anticipated update about in-person services to come Monday, November 30, is expected to not close the libraries but instead, reduce hours of service by one hour — that is, they’ll either close an hour early or open an hour later. Such changes don’t get to the heart of the problem but, perhaps, exacerbate them: with one less hour for use, it seems as though the opportunity for more people to be fed into a space for shorter time periods will only encourage shorter periods of time for cleaning and other COVID protocol.

. . . .

Adding to the ever-decreasing morale among employees are the continued understaffing issues, including the reduction of hours for custodians. When libraries reopened in June, custodial staff were back to working eight hours a day, but they’re now back to part-time hours, putting the onus on other staff to not only do their jobs but also clean, sanitize, and otherwise implement the hygienic recommendations necessitated by the pandemic.

“Employees wear a lot of hats — helping out with shelving, dealing with issues and incidents, working to staff both reference desks and programs. Our programming is still valuable but you can’t host a book club or story time or do a virtual classroom visit and be on the reference desk at the same time,” said one CPL employee. “Add on enforcing mask wearing, trying to clean as much as you can […] and trying not to stress out over the fear that you’re sick or making others sick and it’s pretty tough.”

. . . .

Employees cited the hygiene theater they’re performing among the reasons they’re exhausted and lacking morale, and more, they wonder why it is that Lightfoot continues to shame city residents about gathering together for the holidays while not expecting the same of people in libraries. Other businesses have closed their doors and been forced to return to curbside and other no-contact methods of proceeding, but libraries have not. For many, this illogical meting of cans and cannots further confuses them and creates confusion for the general population.

“I think the public has a false sense of security about precautions and safety. If we are open it must be safe,” said one librarian.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

9 thoughts on “Why Are Chicago Public Libraries Still Open Amid Soaring COVID Rates?”

  1. Life in Chicago is tough. It was when I lived there in the late 60s and early 70s and it appears that it still is. I love Chicago. New York and LA have their heady charms, but Chicago exudes life without the fantasy.

    Here’s another episode in our rural library system’s experience of covid-19. We were closed to all but curbside pickup and digital until the end of October when we were allowed to open our doors at 25% capacity. Two weeks ago, Washington State closed indoor dining, museums, and other public venues due to a surge in infections. Libraries were allowed to remain open because public internet access was deemed an essential service.

    A week ago, one of our staff tested positive. We had to close the branch because most of its staff went into quarantine.

    In the last few days, infections in our county have spiked. County numbers, relative to the rest of the state, are moderately good. We have a high testing rate (325 tests/100K pop) and relatively low positivity (3%), indicating that we have more accurate view of the extent of infection than many places. However, in the face of the spike and in anticipation of further infections from Thanksgiving gatherings this week, library administration, with the backing of the trustees and county health department, decided to close our doors for a few weeks because remaining open would do more damage than good.

    I hated this. Folks will suffer no matter what we do. I hope we can minimize the damage.

    Digital access is soaring, and I count that as good. Broadband access in our county is great in many places, if you can afford it. We’ve managed to cobble together decent access in most of our branches, although I have to admit that I would not live in some areas of our county because access is inadequate no matter what you are willing to pay.

    Now, we’re back to offering customers a laptop in the branch parking lots for a few hours. Not great, but better than bupkis.

    • Would $100 a month for 100Mb be okay with your branch budgets?
      It’s in beta but doable and you’d get priority being public service.

      As for Chicago, they have bigger problems than covid. Hard to believe but true.
      (Covid spares kids for the most part.)

    • I always appreciate your updates about your local library, Marv.

      When I was growing up, libraries (when there was one close enough to access more than 2-3 times per year) were a very important part of my world.

      Chicago is still my favorite large American city. For me, it’s not a pretentious as New York (where I have never lived, but visited a thousand times, mostly for business) and, unlike Los Angeles, there’s a real “there” there. (I have also lived in LA – actually in the sprawl that is LA and which merges into Orange County and heaven knows where else these days.)

      For my favorite city anywhere, Florence, Italy, is firmly embedded in my heart with Oxford a strong second.

      • Felix– I’m not sure how to answer. I pay about half that for giga service to our house. For services to the library system, raw $/bit prices don’t mean as much as they might appear. In many cases, our personnel costs are far more significant than the price of the service itself. A couple years ago, we had to drop a modestly priced online music and book service because it took too much staff time to manage.

        We’ve been working with a state commission to get fiber extended to some of our outlying communities where service is particularly bad.

        • Well, in the short term, STARLINK has been reaching out to first responders and such both to test their low earth orbit satellite system and provide connectivity *now*.
          It might serve as a bridge to when (if) you get fiber.
          As a beta their service varies from a minimum of 50Mb to 250Mb. With extremely low latencies.
          It’s meant for institutions, not homes and low population (aka, rural) areas.

          The call their beta phase the “better than nothing beta” internet service.
          As in, a work in progress. But it *is* better than nothing. No professional installation is supposedto be needed: unpack, place, connect power and router.

          https://www.teslarati.com/spacex-starlink-better-than-nothing-beta-rollout/#:~:text=%20SpaceX%20rolls%20out%20Starlink%20“Better%20Than%20Nothing, connectivity%20issues%207%20•%20Contact%20support%20More%20

          Eventually it’ll get cheaper and cover the globe by 2024 or so: planes and ships included. For now it covered canada and tbe Northern US.

          • I thought you might be referring to Starlink. Thank you for bringing it up. We’ve been following it. It’s likely to be a better alternative to the microwave and copper links we are using now for some of our more remote branches, but it isn’t available here yet, at least not as of the last I heard. But we are watching it.

            For a while, I thought 5g might be a solution, but the infrastructure doesn’t seem to be suitable– maybe good for augmenting decaying buried city infrastructure with short range transmitters, but not so good for our hills and valleys.

            • The Beta started in late October.
              There’s some recent videos on youtube of people unboxing and installing and measuring their throughput.
              The just added another 69 satellites this week and they’re expanding the beta just as fast.
              If you’re really intererested, don’t wait for the full system; they encourage interested folks to get on a waiting list.


  2. PG– I’ve wondered if my affection for Chicago was because it was the first city I lived in off the farm, or if there really is something special about Chicago. I think you’ve confirmed that Chi is special.

    I’ve never lived in NYC, although I spent a lot of time there visiting company headquarters, first on Long Island, then in Manhattan. Our Manhattan office looked down on the Trade Towers pit. We had a spectacular view of the sad sight of the clearance work stopping for each body removal.

    LA, I’ve been to on business many times, but it seems that if you are not involved in entertainment, it’s bland.

    In Europe, my taste runs to Heidelberg and Nuremberg as historical cities and perhaps because my German is good enough to get around with, although we installed more English than German versions of our products in Germany.

    My wife is with you on Florence and Oxford, although she also loves Venice.

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