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Detroit Public Libraries Reopen to Serve Community

How Detroit’s Public Library is Working to Make Access to Materials Easier for Patrons


Since March 25th, 1865 the Detroit Public Library has serviced this community. It began as 5000 books in a single room, and has now expanded to 22 locations throughout the city and provides materials amounting to roughly 7,572,562. These added materials come in all shapes and sizes—books, CD’s, DVD’s, and now even streamed movies, music, and audiobooks are available. Computer access was also made available to library cardholders, beginning in 1989, making the Detroit Public Library an incredible asset to the city. 

Ten days short of its 155th anniversary, the Detroit Public Library was forced to close all of its branches due to the coronavirus pandemic. This closure has been felt as a hard hit to the community, judged by the amount of patrons begging the question, “When are you reopening?” These calls and emails by patrons, though difficult to answer in a time of unknowing, may have very well solidified the knowledge of the community’s love for the library.

The Detroit Library’s public relations specialist, Kathryn Dowgiewicz, says that this time distanced from the community gave the library the ability to adapt, “If there is one thing the pandemic has shown us, it is that we need to be really creative and flexible,” she says. But what exactly does this creativity and flexibility mean for the community?

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Libraries have changed the game over the past few years in terms of providing information, stories, movies, and music. Patrons with library cards can access a wide assortment of e-books, audiobooks, movies, and music on apps such as Hoopla and Libby. These materials were readily used by patrons while the library remained closed.

The main branch, as well as six other branches in the system, have reopened to the public as of September 28th. Though the Detroit Public Library is not currently allowing patrons to browse through their selections, the new systems in place provide patrons with even easier access to the library’s assets. Patrons are asked to request or reserve their orders of which they can pick up during the libraries’ open hours. Contactless, curbside pickup is also available if preferred.

For patrons who use the library as a source of wifi or computer access, the library closure has been especially difficult. Because of this, the library has worked hard to grant patrons access to wifi and computers in a safe way. The computers inside the branches can once again be used by patrons. Fewer of the computers can be used, however, in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines. 

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The time limit for computer use has been shortened to an hour, allowing for a faster turnaround. Patrons, in order to ensure availability, can reserve a computer before their arrival. Beyond this, the Detroit Public Library circulates a collection of 200 laptops of which they loan out to cardholders for a limit of 90 days, free of charge. This is an amazing asset, especially for those without computers at home. 

In addition to these things, the Mobile Library is taking turns at many of the closed branches to ensure patrons’ access to library materials. The Mobile Library’s schedule can be found on the Detroit Public Library’s website. Patrons can request to pick up any on hold materials (including laptops) at these locations. The Mobile Library pulls up with free wifi to cardholders, as well as laptops and a printer for patron use. Librarians are also on-site to help patrons with any questions. Masks and social distancing are required by all. 

Think outside the box” seems to be the unofficial motto of 2020. Thus, another way the Detroit Public Library is working to reach the community is online content. Children’s librarians are recording story-times and live crafts which can be found on the library’s youtube channel. There are also virtual book clubs featured on the library’s website. “These [programs] have been going really well,” says Dowgiewicz, “I think the goal is to see what exactly our customers respond to in the virtual environment and then continue it from there.

In times like these, uncertain and scary, services like what the Detroit Public Library provides are such an amazing benefit. Things are different for many of us since the pandemic began, but the library is working hard to provide the Detroit community with materials for success. So let’s not take these the library’s 155 years of life for granted, let’s dig in, and explore all it has to offer.

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