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Library Information Center Taking Calls From Across The Country

Courtesy of Michelle Elliott
Librarians are staffing the Virtual Information Center from their homes.

Librarians with the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County are still fielding calls despite facilities being closed by the pandemic. The library's Virtual Information Center (VIC) has responded to 4,491 calls, 748 emails, and 1,542 chats and texts since closing March 13.

Staff members are spread across the community, taking calls and finding answers from their homes.

"We're getting a lot of phone number look-ups, questions about your account ... a lot of people think 'You can just Google that' but a lot of people don't have computers or access to that so they're relying on the library. Information about the coronavirus, there's a lot of questions about that and the stay-at-home orders," says Harrison Branch Manager Michelle Elliott.

Patrons are concerned about fines, item due dates, or asking for their pin numbers to be reset so they can access the library's digital offerings.

Elliott says some people are just looking for someone to talk to on top of getting their question answered.

"A lot of people come to the library on a daily basis and I think they're missing that connection with us. It's nice to be able to have that on the phone line. We're able to pivot in that way and that's been good."

The library's reach extends well beyond Hamilton County and the Tri-State. Elliott's helped people in Lexington with computer questions, and an unexpected request about the percentage of milk fat in half-and-half. After providing the answer, the caller asked Elliott, "Do you know where I'm calling from?"

The answer? St. Louis, MO. Elliott thought perhaps she was being pranked, but the man seemed genuine, explaining his library was closed and he doesn't have a home computer.

"He got his almanac out and researched the 100 largest cities with libraries and he'd been calling them. He had gotten through about 50 and he'd only gotten to communicate with one other library besides the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. He was super appreciative of being able to talk to a live person and it was really fun."

Elliott says the man told her the only other library to answer was in Los Angeles, though he could leave a message with Indianapolis and wait for a call back with an answer.

"Overwhelmingly, I'm so excited about how many people just are so thankful for the library," she says. "They're thankful that we're still there and we're answering phone calls. ... That's been really great to hear."

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.