Deep River Public Library (CT Examiner/Otte)

$2.6 Million in Federal COVID Funds Earmarked for 65 Libraries Across Connecticut

Since the Governor’s Office allocated $2.6 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to public libraries last week, local librarians have been brainstorming creative ways to use the funds. 

The funding, which will be distributed to 65 library districts across the state, is designated for the purchase of PPE, furniture, cleaning services and internet expansion. 

Susan Rooney, the librarian at Deep River Public Library, said she had a lot of ideas about how to use the funding, including an outdoor tent with a heater and furnishing for people to sit and study, air purifiers and wifi hotspots on either side of the library. 

She said she would particularly like to use the funding to purchase plexiglass shields for the circulation desk. She said that up until this point, they had been using clear shower curtains.

“The shower curtains certainly work, but they’re not very pretty,” she said.

Bob Farwell, director at the Otis Library in Norwich, said he hoped to use some of the $48,625 that the library will receive to purchase more masks, sanitizers and covers for the computer keyboards.

“All of those are an added expense that we hadn’t anticipated,” he said. 

The Governor’s Office said in a press release that they wish to direct the funding toward low-income and rural communities. For libraries in these communities, internet expansion is a key point, since many residents do not have access to broadband access at home. 

Madhu Gupta, executive director of New London’s Public Library system, said she has seen more people coming to use the library’s wifi, especially after Tropical Storm Isaias, when a large number of the people in the community were without power. 

Gupta said one way New London might consider using the funding, which totals $39,831, would be to purchase plexiglass dividing stations for the computers so that more people could come in and use them. She said that with the uptick in COVID cases, the shields would be ideal for keeping people safely socially distanced.    

Some librarians have said they wish that there was more latitude in how the funds could be used. Joanne Westkamper, director of the Raymond Library in Montville, said that she thinks the library will refuse the funding because there is nothing they can use it for. 

Westkamper said that the library’s COVID expenses haven’t been excessive, about $600 to install plexiglass shields at the library counter and about $300 to purchase cleaning supplies, masks and “as much hand sanitizer as we could get our hands on.” 

She also said that the funding for network expansion wouldn’t be helpful for them, as they are not part of the Connecticut Education Network, which is used by 60 percent of libraries in the state. She said that the library is so small that there isn’t enough space for people to social distance while using the computers. 

Westkamper said that what the library really needed was a replacement for the computers they have had for 10 years.

A spokesperson from the Governor’s Office said that because the money is from federal coronavirus relief funds, it must be used for expenses related to the virus. 

While some libraries, like New London, have opened to 75 percent capacity in accordance with the phase 3 guidelines that went into effect on October 8, many others have not yet reached this benchmark. 

Farwell said that Otis Library is operating on an appointment-only basis out of caution, especially with the recent rise in infections in the area. He said they were working on getting chromebooks and hotspots to people in the city. 

Rooney said that Deep River’s library has been open for limited hours since June, but she hoped to increase their hours as part of the phase 3 reopening. She said that most of the other local libraries in her area weren’t open at all. 

Each of the 65 libraries will receive between $20,676 and $167,451 in the form of Connectivity Grants. According to the governor’s office, the amount is based on size and the number of people the library serves. Libraries are required to use the funding by December 18. 

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