It’s like rain on your wedding day…Isn’t it ironic?

During National Library Week, the Moline Public Library, 3210 41st St., temporarily laid off all its 29 employees Wednesday. It’s been closed to the public since March 17 because of Covid-19, but Tuesday the library board and city council agreed to remove $450,000 from its 2020 budget of $3.9 million, board president Sue Blackall said.

“We’re just gonna adjust to find out how we can recoup the cost of that,” she said, noting the city recommended furloughing employees last Sunday, and the board met at noon Tuesday. The library closed last month to the public, but employees continued working in the building through this past Tuesday, and offered remote services like online book readings and talks.

Librarians also created a database of small businesses for the city. Curbside checkout of materials was offered for a week in March, Blackall said. “It was hard to know how much the city was going to be hit by the loss of sales-tax revenues.”

The city is working with the union on maintaining health coverage for library staff. “We as a board would love to see our librarians continue to have health coverage,” she said.

The Moline library board is working with city officials to determine fiscal sustainability for library operations both during the current coronavirus crisis and to create an operating model once the library re-opens, the board president said.

With city budget shortfalls caused by business closings, it’s hoped this will be a “short-term layoff and the library will re-open as soon as it deemed safe to offer physical library services,” the board said in a release.

“We deeply regret the loss of community services this temporary closure brings, as well as any hardship this brings to our dedicated and talented staff,” Blackall said. “The board will meet as necessary with a goal to reopen to the public as soon as possible.”

Another advantage to furloughing staff is that the employees can receive unemployment benefits, she noted.

Before this week, employees could come into the library in appropriate social distancing, and do some programming, shelving of books and cleaning the library and cataloging. “There were things they had somewhat fallen a little behind, so they had time to focus on that,” Blackall said.

On the staff’s last day, April 21, many members of the public drove to the library to show their support, and displayed signs declaring their love for the facility.

One – Michelle Chavez of Moline – came with her daughter, Maya, with a sign saying “We love you. We support our library and librarians,” but the crowd had already left.

They spotted a favorite librarian  (Priscilla Perez), through the window, and blew a kiss to her.

“Our family visits the library so often we have gotten to know many of the staff as friends,” Michelle wrote Wednesday. “Along with the providing public resources, the staff have watched my children grow, attended my child’s graduation, learned about my family likes and dislikes of books, videos, etc.

“Fortunately, we have had the pleasure of having conversations about the staff’s own lives, loved ones at home, crafts and books they like to enjoy,” she said. “The librarians are more than just staffed people to the community but have been part of our family lives. As we drove away, I cried thinking about how welcoming, embracing the staff has been to my children and how fortunate we have been to utilize and walk into our library up until now.

“What is confusing to me about the closure of our city library is that the librarian staff was being creative, quickly finding ways to improvise to keep people productive, safe, healthy, informed and connected by increasing its online presence, social interaction by providing live stories, info on links to resources and books, and providing information center to the public for questions on resources,” Chavez wrote.

“Yet city leaders themselves could have tried to be just as creative in coming up with options or plans to keep the staff/library open. The library is a place in which its resources/staff help improve the city’s economic and social well-being of the community, and is a symbol of democracy, equality, knowledge, wisdom, literacy and freedoms.

“What does closing the doors and withdrawing funding say about the town I live in and its own values?” she asked.

“It was wonderful support for our librarians and the library field in general,” Blackall said of Tuesday’s rally. “We had some great letters that were read at the city council (Tuesday night) for the library, and what it means for the community to have that facility available and the services they do offer.”

Library director Bryon Lear said Wednesday: “I was very touched by the support from our community for their library.”

While this is National Library Week, the 2020 theme – “Find your place at the library” – was chosen some time ago, “before any of us could imagine the emergence of a global pandemic that would force most libraries to temporarily close their physical spaces,” according to the American Library Association website, ala.org.

“But you can still find your place at the library because libraries are open for business online, providing the virtual services and digital content their communities need more than ever. You can access e-books, movies, music, video games, virtual storytimes and activities, and so much more — all from the comfort of your home.”

“How ironic was that?” said Blackall of the week’s coincidence with layoffs. “It’s not something you would expect, and for us, we’ll take the National Library Week and now we’ll say, let’s get it back. Let’s re-group, see where our budget can be cut, and I hope to bring the library and its services back, and up and running as soon as we can.”

If the Illinois governor’s “stay-at-home” order goes to the end of May, the board will deal with it, she said. “That’s gonna be very difficult. I assume we’ll have to see what exactly the governor is saying. Are we being considered an essential business? To us, we’re essential, and I’m sure to a lot of citizens in the Quad-Cities, we’re essential. I don’t know how we fit into the true definition.”
They’re still up and running with the e-services (such as e-book checkout and online research) from the library website, www.molinelibrary.com.

“We’ll look and see what our future looks like, what services we’re going to be able to offer. When are we going to be able to bring people back to the library? These are unknowns,” Blackall said. Some people say we haven’t even peaked yet with the virus in Illinois. We don’t want to rush, do we?”

“The board, we’re going to meet regularly, to go through the budgetary needs,” and their next meeting is April 30. “We need to start talking about things. We can’t wait until May to start talking about it.”

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.