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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Library Feeling Economic Pinch

Bill Rinehart
The Downtown Library, pictured five days after the system closed because of the pandemic.

The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County is making staffing and salary changes because of the coronavirus pandemic. The library system closed March 13, and many of the 839 employees have been working from home since then, answering phone calls and conducting video story times.

Some 435 staff members will see a 75% cut in hours. Another 106 people will be furloughed.

"The pandemic has left us with no good choices, and making this difficult decision is especially distressing," says Paula Brehm-Heeger, the Eva Jane Romaine Coombe Library director. "I am heartened, however, when I recall how together we have risen to meet past challenges, and I know that our collective passion and perseverance will carry us through these extraordinary times together, too."

Brehm-Heeger is taking a 15% pay cut. Other members of the library leadership are taking a 5-10% cut. The pay reductions and the furloughs take effect May 3 and are expected to reduce costs by $167,800 a week.

"These impacts are for about 60-65% of our staff. But we have staff that are still going to be doing virtual story times, online programming, so we have staff that are able to sustain the services that we are offering now, and will be able to continue to sustain those services as we move forward," Brehm-Heeger says.

About 2,500 people have applied for library cards since the system closed. Brehm-Heeger says 70-80 people will watch the library's virtual bedtime stories read live on Facebook, but by the next morning, a video will have as many as 1,500 views.

She isn't sure what the library's financial future looks like. "Libraries, like local governments, have to wait for tax receipts to determine exactly what we'll be missing, and sometimes there's a bit of a lag. So at this point, it's a little unclear," she says.

She says State Auditor Keith Farber has a conference call with Ohio's library directors on Tuesday. He's expected to discuss the financial difficulties libraries will be facing. Brehm-Heeger says the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County receives about 48% of funding from a state fund. "That is a substantial amount. We know that there's going to be some kind of significant loss of that revenue. We're looking at maybe 20-30% reduction in that funding alone, which might be $8-12 million."

She says they aren't sure how much levy revenues will decline.

The Library is still paying the full employer portion of medical and dental insurance for all staff.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.