3 Things Libraries Across America Are Doing to Fight the Coronavirus

Some libraries are going above and beyond to help provide communities with necessary resources, services and entertainment.

New York City Tourism And Entertainment Industry Stifled By Coronavirus RestrictionsRoy Rochlin/Getty Images
Brooklyn Public Library

Coronavirus has altered day-to-day life for most Americans. Kids are out of school, many stores and businesses are closed, and some cities and states are telling people to stay home. It’s hard on all of us.

But community organizations are stepping up to provide much-needed support in these challenging times. Take libraries — in the age of smartphones, e-books and Netflix, these halls of knowledge have refashioned themselves as community institutions. Some libraries are going above and beyond to provide critical services, life-saving resources and family-friendly entertainment as we all struggle together to get through the next few months.

Taking inventory

When Ohio ordered people to stay home and many businesses and organizations to close their doors, Jason Kucsma, executive director of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library, took it seriously. The library system that serves 500,000 people in Northern Ohio shut its doors on March 14, and Kucsma sent all of the employees home.

Like many other libraries, Toledo has digital operations that are still up and running. But, unlike many libraries, Toledo has something else, too: A huge cache of resources that are valuable now more than ever.

Kucsma did an inventory of all useful supplies they have lying around across their 20 buildings and fleet of cars. Turns out, they have a lot: dozens of containers of disinfectant wipes, thousands of nitrile medical-grade gloves, and a sea of hand sanitizer. Check out these 4 household products that kill the coronavirus.

“Libraries want to be really helpful for our communities,” Kucsma told Reader’s Digest. “We have assets that are sitting unused right now, so it makes more sense for us to put that out there for other people in the community to use.”

The library system will be donating its supplies to the local emergency operations center. Kucsma has also offered the use of his fleet of cars and buildings, including a 300,000 square foot facility in downtown Toledo.

The Oakland Public Library in California, among others, is collecting personal protective equipment, like N95 masks, at its book drop, instead of books.

Hand sanitizer and digital support for all

Richland Library Coronavirus effortsCourtesy Richland Library (2)

When the Richland County Public Library System closed for public safety, its librarians knew the 40 stand-up hand-sanitizer systems they own could be put to better use than just sitting in empty buildings. So they collected the stations and are working with the local United Way to have them distributed to homeless shelters and in other places where people who need a little help go for support.

For many communities, the library is one of the primary places people experiencing homelessness get services. The library also purchased port-o-lets, mobile toilets with washing stations, and deployed it outside its downtown locations.

“We’re trying to figure out ways to continue to serve,” Emily Stoll, Richland’s community and media relations coordinator, told Reader’s Digest.

The Spokane Library in the state of Washington will be housing people experiencing homelessness. There are 140 beds available.

The Cincinnati Public Library, like many others, is acting as a distribution center for meals for families with children who would ordinarily receive a free or reduced-price meal at school.

Like many libraries, Richland has also extended its WiFi capabilities as far beyond its physical walls as possible to allow people to sit in their cars nearby and access the library’s internet access and digital collections. The Jersey City Public Library in New Jersey has doubled the number of WiFi hotspot devices it gives out for a loan. The Prince George’s County Memorial Library System in Maryland is also extending its WiFi network.


A local comic artist named Lee Post was scheduled to give a workshop on how to draw comics at the Anchorage Public Library in Alaska before the spread of the coronavirus. The workshop was ultimately canceled. However, the library wanted to find a way to deliver on its promise to customers while maintaining a safe distance. The class is going digital and it’s getting competitive.

The course material is being shared online and once a week, the artist is giving attendees a prompt of a comic to draw. The comic submissions get judged and prizes have been awarded weekly. You can follow along and see the winning comics here.

The library is also running virtual storytimes with familiar locals.

“People want to see a familiar face, people they know,” Elizabeth Nicolai, the library’s youth services coordinator, told Reader’s Digest.

The Brooklyn Public Library in New York held a Nintendo Switch Mario Kart tournament. People could participate in the tournament, where they would play the popular driving video game, from home.

The Oak Park Public Library in Illinois is holding a “March Book Madness” tournament, where people can vote on their favorite books in each genre in a bracketed contest run similar to the now-canceled March Madness college basketball tournament.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has launched a “Stay in and Read” challenge, which is similar to its annual summer reading program. Check out these websites that offer great books you can read online for free.