As the nation scrambles to implement social distancing and control the spread of COVID-19, major library systems around the country have announced plans to close. And in the few large population centers where libraries are still remaining open, there is controversy. Among the 20 most populous cities in America, only the Chicago and Boston public libraries had yet to announce temporary closures by Monday morning. In Boston that led to an online petition asking the city to close the libraries and make the employees whole. In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio had publicly resisted library closures. When the New York Public Library — serving Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island — announced its temporary closure on Friday, the mayor was critical: “They made the decision without consultation with us which was a mistake in my view.” The Brooklyn and Queens Public libraries remained open — until Sunday night, when both announced that they too would close starting Monday (with NYC schools closing until April 20).
Other major cities closing their public libraries through the end of March or beyond include Charlotte, Columbus, Denver, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Louisville, Memphis, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, Washington, DC, and libraries across the entire state of Pennsylvania. The Houston libraries are just closing for a few days for now; the Dallas and San Antonio libraries for a week. This is far from a comprehensive list, and the closures continued to grow. (Michael Sauers and Julie Erickson created a live Google Doc spreadsheet tracking library system closures.) Patrons should check locally before visiting. The trend is clear and expect most libraries to be suspended shortly.
Patrons and students will rely ever more on digital materials with branches closed, and some of those suppliers have announced initiatives. Clearly publishers will be asked to relax or suspend limits on lending and licensing during this crisis.
Overdrive tells libraries it is “assembling a series of digital content options to respond to the challenges your communities are facing.” Those plans “include free and low-cost Simultaneous Use and Cost-Per-Circ ebook and audiobook collections to serve readers of all ages with low-cost, quality titles. We are working with our publishing partners, asking them to join in this effort.” They hope to have an update shortly.
For academic libraries and customers, Proquest issued a list of over 50 publishers that have joined in “providing unlimited access to Ebook Central holdings for all patrons – at no extra charge.” Any titles already licensed for digital lending (including single-user models) “will automatically convert to unlimited access” through mid-June. The same terms applied to additional titles purchased now.