Operation HOPE: How these Illinois Libraries are Fighting to Flatten the Curve
During the uncertain times of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a group Chicago Metropolitan Area public libraries have banded together under the initiative of the Joliet Public Library to transform their book returns into drop-off points for donations of protective equipment such as masks, sanitizer, gloves, gowns, and more to be distributed to local hospitals and health care workers.
Named Operation HOPE, or Handing Out Protective Equipment, this initiative now includes over seven participating libraries sending donations to three ppearea hospitals and their healthcare workers. I asked Joliet Public Library Executive Director Megan Millen some questions about Operation HOPE to help shed some light on this significant public program and provide insight into one way the public library can serve as an important community nexus during times of crisis.
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How did Operation HOPE originate? Was there a specific spark behind the project?
“When the pandemic started, my deputy director and I had a brainstorming session about what we could do to help. We quickly realized that with our few 3D printers, we could never make enough masks or face shields to be impactful. Then, Catherine Adamowski, my Deputy Director suggested that we could collect PPE instead in our book drops. I suggested that we should include neighboring libraries in the effort because we have several nearby hospitals that could benefit. I started making emails and to date, seven other libraries have joined Joliet Public Library.”
What unique strengths do libraries offer in serving their communities during times of crisis?
“The one thing that unites all libraries of every kind is that we’re here to serve. Nothing is worse for a library staff than to be forced to close our doors to a public that truly needs us. Therefore, we have all looked for new and unique ways to continue that service, whether it’s virtual programming, online computer classes, or in our case, collecting vital equipment for first responders. Libraries already served multiple purposes in the community, including that of ad hoc social service agency in many ways. It’s our natural instinct to jump in to do whatever we can to help.”
Have the community donations to Operation HOPE met your expectations so far?
“Yes — almost everything we’ve received has been handsewn masks, and the volume of these masks have been astounding! People are really working diligently to create these masks. Two out of three of the hospitals we are serving are now seeking handsewn masks.”
To what degree are you able to communicate with and respond to your partner hospitals’ needs?
“Before we began, we were in contact with each hospital via email and we currently check their websites daily for any changes in what they are seeking so that we may be up-to-date on the type of materials needed.”
Does your library have experience handling donations in the past? Are there any other causes you are partnered with?
“Joliet Library has partnered with Will County Center for Community Concerns for several years to collect clothing, sleeping bags, and other important items for the homeless population. We also do an annual Giving Tree and each year choose a different charitable organization to benefit.”
Are there any plans to continue Operation HOPE beyond the scope of the current pandemic?
“While we certainly hope that the current pandemic will end soon and we won’t see such a thing again, in the event that the pandemic returns in the fall or winter, we would be ready to very quickly ramp up Operation HOPE again.”
What words of advice would you give to public libraries looking to set up similar programs in their communities?
“Librarians love to over-complicate things and have endless committees, meetings, beta tests, etc. before rolling out something new. When time is of the essence, it’s important to just start moving. We were able to conceive of and execute all of Operation HOPE in about a week. I am proud of my team for taking the idea and running with it. This can be duplicated at any library that has a book drop and staff willing to help.”
Do you have anything more to add about the experience of running Operation HOPE?
“What I was most pleased about was how readily other library directors answered my call for help. Kudos to my partner libraries: Coal City Public Library, Homer Township Public Library, New Lenox Public Library, Plainfield Public Library, Robert W. Rowe Public Library in Sheridan, Shorewood Public Library, and Three Rivers Public Library which serves Channahon and Minooka. These directors were ready to pitch right in and help right away.”
Joliet Public Library can be found and followed at the locations below; be sure to stay current on Operation HOPE and to look out to your public library and community as a whole for ways you can contribute to pandemic relief efforts — and remember: staying and home and practicing your distancing always helps to flatten the curve!