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Libraries Play a Crucial Role in Coronavirus Response, Say Panelists at Route Fifty Webinar

Elijah Labby

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Photo of Cleveland Public Library Executive Director Felton Thomas courtesy of Cleveland.com

July 14, 2020 — Libraries have a unique opportunity to respond to the coronavirus and are well equipped to assist vulnerable populations, said participants in a Route Fifty webinar Tuesday.

Felton Thomas, executive director and CEO of the Cleveland Public Library, said that his library played an important role in helping Cleveland to respond to the pandemic.

Their first step was developing face shields in-house for essential workers in the city.

“Public libraries were put in a position where due to COVID, we couldn’t fall back into our natural role,” he said. “So we had to look for other ways to provide our communities with what they needed.”

The Cleveland Public Library has leveraged its 3D printing technology to make about five thousand face shields, Thomas said. These masks have been given to hospitals and other essential industries to help assist with the shortage of personal protective equipment.

However, the process has not come without challenges, he added.

“One of the struggles is the fact that we need to start,” Thomas said. “As we start reopening our libraries, we need to start creating those face shields for our own staff.”

Thomas said that in the future, he and the Cleveland Public Library will look to other libraries, such as the Boston Public Library, that have been providing broadband access for members of the community.

“One of the things that they did was they recognized that folks who were in recovery weren’t being provided access,” he said. “So, they worked with their city folks to… provide hotspots for those community members.”

Eric Batista, director of the Office of Urban Innovation for the city of Worcester, Massachusetts, said that such innovations will be crucial in the future.

“This is the future,” he said. “The future of connectivity, the future of engagement is technology, and if they don’t want to prepare for the future, then we’re going to be behind as a city.”

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