By Janet S. Loew
Marketing Director, Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County
YOUNGSTOWN – Libraries have reinvented themselves many times over the decades as trends and technologies changed. But in 2020, Mahoning County’s libraries saw – and met – one of the biggest challenges as COVID-19 swept through the world.
“This past year saw our employees rise to meet unprecedented challenges, all the while maintaining service, even though our buildings had to close for a time,” says Aimee Fifarek, executive director of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County (PLYMC).
The library system closed to the public March 15 while the administration developed a plan to transition its services online.
On March 18, the library system’s website, LibraryVisit.org, debuted its new streamlined, responsive design featuring health information, business skill building, and entertainment. Staff answered questions by phone and email from their homes on topics ranging from applying for unemployment to how to download e-Books.
Each library’s WiFi points were moved so visitors could access high-speed Internet service from the parking lots.
Curbside service began June 3 and the Pop-Up Library resumed taking books to the community June 11. The special delivery service sent books to the disabled by mail.
Library buildings started to reopen for computer access on July 13 and for full services Aug. 3.
In late July, PLYMC received $375,000 in Cares Act funding and purchased cleaning supplies, equipment for virtual and curbside service, outdoor WiFi access points and ionizing air purifiers for all buildings.
The renovation of the Main Library, 305 Wick Ave., was picking up steam when COVID hit but the project remains largely on schedule. A virtual groundbreaking Aug. 7 marked the official start of construction.
PLYMC was founded in 1880 and has a staff of 184 and 14 locations. Its projected operating budget for 2021 is $17.7 million.
Because libraries were closed for almost five months in 2020, overall circulation of physical materials was down about 40% to 1,034,903. Circulation of digital materials rose: Hoopla was up 33% and Overdrive 17%.
PLYMC’s major funding sources are the state’s public library fund and a local real estate tax.