By Cyril Dela Rosa
The City of Chicago has loosened its public safety restrictions of public spaces during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic after lifting the mask mandate and vaccine requirements on Feb. 28. Branches of the Chicago Public Library (CPL) no longer require masks to be worn in their premises, although immunocompromised/more vulnerable patrons are encouraged to continue the practice.
CPL expects to return to full operations throughout its open branches. Two branch locations still remain closed: Galewood-Mont Clare in the namesake community and (Richard J.) Daley in Bridgeport. While the former remained closed throughout the pandemic because its smaller size inhibited the ability to implement social distancing measures, discussions are underway to expand the building.
The Daley Library has similarly planned to reopen its branch after renovations in Nov. 2022. However, this predicted timeline appears to be pushed back as the library is temporarily closed again until further notice.
This expectation for the CPL to have all of its branches fully functioning arises after two years of many branches being closed and/or functioning with reduced operations. A combination of limited capacity at library locations and lesser foot traffic amidst higher risks of spreading the coronavirus lowered the total number of visitors counted across the system.
According to City of Chicago data, 3.6 million total visits to CPL branches were recorded throughout 2021. In comparison, 3.3 million visits were recorded in 2020; 8 million were reported for 2019 (before the pandemic began). 525,725 patrons have visited CPL branches over the first two months of 2022.
Additionally, the Omicron variant causing a surge of COVID-19 cases at the beginning of 2022, which contributed to branches being closed in January. The Canaryville, Manning, Water Works, Gage Park, Bezazian and Hall locations all received no visits during the first month of the year. These numbers correlate with library branches being closed momentarily as a result of multiple staff members testing positive for COVID-19.
A final caveat to assess is the ability for online library services to continue despite temporary branch location closures. A data layer of the map accompanying this article conveys the number of different online renewals and downloadable media items in circulation throughout the library system. As the map demonstrates, year-to-date (YTD) cumulative totals from this virtual circulation mode far exceed the count of physical items across local CPL branches.