Stark Library Serves the Community Virtually During the COVID Crisis

April 9, 2020 (Canton, Ohio) – Although the buildings are not open, Stark Library’s virtual doors remain open 24/7 for patrons.

Online Resources

The Library’s many online resources are popular alternatives to paid subscriptions. Ebooks and audio books can be accessed through the Overdrive/Libby app. Thousands of popular eMagazine titles are available digitally through RBdigital and Flipster. Streaming music, TV shows, and movies are offered using Overdrive/Libby or Hoopla. These services even offer comics, for the younger (and young at heart).

In addition, the Library staff has been working to develop lists of digital learning resources and activities that parents and caregivers can use as they venture into the world of homeschooling. There are special pages on the Library website with links to activities for both children and adults to help keep them connected to their community during this time of social and physical distancing. (

Library Closure

On Friday, April 3,2020, the Library announced that its buildings would be closed until further notice. This came after the initial announcement closing until at least April 6, 2020.

“The decision to close the Library was one I never thought I would have to make,” says Mary Ellen Icaza, CEO and Executive Director. “This is a terrible situation. The safety, health, and wellbeing of the Library employees and patrons is our highest priority. We are striving to fulfill our mission of connecting our community to resources, services, and opportunities online as much as possible.”

The Library provided administrative leave with pay to all employees during the first four weeks of the closure – through April 12th. The Library Board of Trustees and the executive team have worked closely with the SEIU 1199 Union to develop options for staff going forward. They are balancing the commitment to support their staff with the responsibility of being good stewards of the community’s resources. While some administrative and managerial staff can and have been working remotely, the majority of the Library staff is public services staff working in library facilities. During the State of Ohio Department of Health ‘stay at home’ order, our service to the public is limited to digital and online resources. There is no work for our public services staff to do and it is not possible for them to do their work remotely.

Ohio Governor, Mike DeWine, has indicated that there will likely be modifications to the state budget because of this crisis, which most likely will result in a decrease in the Ohio Public Library Fund, and property tax revenue will likely decrease. In a special board meeting on April 2, 2020, the board passed a resolution to reduce the Library’s budget by more than a million dollars for the remainder of the fiscal year. This comes in conjunction with budget cuts that have been mandated from each department across the organization.

“These reductions are to prepare us for a decrease in revenue, which we know is an inevitable outcome from this pandemic,” states the Library’s Fiscal Officer, Chris Butler. “While we can’t quantify what this decrease will be, our board president has given us instructions to ‘prepare for the worst and hope for the best.’ We will continue to monitor this situation and make additional adjustments as we deem necessary.”

Knowing that revenue decrease is certain, and in order to be good stewards of money that taxpayers entrust them with, the Library and Union leadership have come to an agreement that gives Library staff as many options as possible, in recognition of individual employees’ personal circumstances, until the ‘stay at home’ order is lifted and it is safe for the Library to reopen for both staff and patrons.

All Library employees can either use their accrued sick time or paid time off (PTO), or they can take a voluntary layoff. Those who opt for the voluntary layoff will be eligible for unemployment insurance as well as the federal government’s stimulus package that will temporarily add $600/week in additional pay, which will result in many employees receiving benefits equal to or greater than their normal salaries. The Library will continue to pay the employer portion of employee health benefits through July 31, 2020, and all employees and their families will have access to mental health support via telehealth.

The Library administration and non-bargaining unit (NBU) employees will also share the burden during this crisis. Library administration and NBU will operate under reduced hours, while some may opt for voluntary layoff. Only essential work needed to maintain operations and communications during the closure and to plan for Library facilities’ reopening will be done during this time.

“This is a difficult and painful time for us all,” concluded Icaza. “These decisions were made with the utmost care and consideration in order to preserve jobs. As an organization, we are all in this together.

I look forward to the day when we can walk back into the Library, see the staff again, and safely serve the public – face to face. Until that time, we will continue to serve as best as we can – virtually.”

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Inviting. Informing. Transforming.  At Stark Library, we invite everyone into a welcoming place, inform them with resources that will help them grow, and then send them back out to change and transform the world. We think of this ongoing, lifelong process as OUR PURPOSE.

One of the 9 largest library systems in Ohio – and the county’s oldest library – Stark Library serves the community through 10 locations, six mobile libraries, and with a 24/7 online services.

Stark Library has been recognized in the Library Journal’s annual list of top-rated ‘star libraries’ five years in a row – putting them in the top 1% of all libraries in the United States. A 2009 winner of the prestigious National Medal for library service, Stark Library serves more than 240,000 residents, annually circulating nearly 4 million items from its 1.5 million item collection and providing access to an additional 66 million items from lending networks throughout Ohio. Each year the library presents more than 8,000 programs for 150,000 attendees and provides 195,000 computer sessions on the publicly available computers found in each branch. In 2019, Stark Library served nearly 2 million visitors at all locations and online.

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