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AIMEE FIFAREK | An open letter from the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County

It’s our duty to make sure we are adhering to these regulations as we expand our services. That’s why we are taking things slowly.
Aimee Fifarek3 06172020

Everyone across Ohio is taking cautious steps out of our homes, and the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County is no different. Although our staff has been providing amazing programs online for the entirety of this crisis, and we are available nearly every day by phone and by email, you tell us it’s just not the same as being in the library with a book in your hand.  

We hear you and couldn’t agree more!  

But, like they say on social media, it’s complicated. More than anything else, people see libraries as a safe place, where you can come when you’re not at work, at home or at school.  We try to live up to that trust every day, and the COVID-19 era is no exception.  

Libraries are a lot of things to a lot of people: office, study hall, bookstore, meeting space, entertainment venue and sometimes even day care and refuge. But while each one of those industries does one thing and has one set of  guidelines to follow, ALL of them apply to the library in some respect. It’s our duty to make sure we are adhering to these regulations as we  expand our services.   

That’s why we are taking things slowly. We started curbside pickup of materials on June 3 and are putting our book drops back out today for you to return materials. We will be opening a few locations for computer and copier access in early July, and plan to open more locations when our staff on voluntary furlough is back at work in August. There is still a mass gathering restriction of 10 people, and once that is adjusted, we will be able to start additional services. 

Most importantly, we want to do this right the first time so we don’t have to shut down services because the virus is spreading. We know how important we are to everyone in school, and we want to be there for you when classes are back in session in the fall.  

But there is one thing libraries don’t want to keep doing, and that’s being a person’s ONLY  source of reliable broadband access. It is true for too many people in the community, and if this crisis has showed us anything, it is that people need reliable, affordable broadband access in their homes if they are to succeed in school, at work and in life.  

People shouldn’t have to sit in our parking lots — or our buildings for that matter — to do homework or apply for jobs. They shouldn’t have to spend a long time walking to a library or taking public transportation just to have an hour or two on a computer. To successfully swim in the waters of our digital era, everyone needs to have internet access at their fingertips, whenever they need it, day or night.  

We applaud the initiatives going through federal and state legislatures to help make this happen.U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson is a member of the U.S. Congressional Rural Broadband Caucus, and in April, with Rep. Rob Wittman, introduced the Serving Rural America Act to provide $100 million a year over five years to expand broadband service to unserved areas of the country.

Last week, the Ohio House passed the Residential Broadband Expansion Legislation sponsored by state Reps. Rick Carfagna and Michael O'Brien, and co-sponsored by state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, which would provide $20 million to expand broadband services to Ohio households without access today. We hope that these and other measures succeed.  

While we wait, your library will still be there for you. We've boosted WIFI into our parking lots and added signs to show where the signal is strongest. We will be opening up for computer access next  month. And we've purchased additional WIFI hotspots for checkout through curbside service so you can have access where it will do the most good — at home. All of this is free with your library card.  

The library is open 24/7 at, and by phone at 330-259-3399 Monday through Saturday.

— Aimee Fifarek is the executive director of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County.