As record-breaking high temperatures pummel the United States this week, many people are turning to libraries to help escape the heat.
Libraries from California to Georgia, Colorado to Connecticut, and all parts in between are opening their doors to offer respite as cooling centers for those in need. Health officials recommend that people without indoor cooling methods escape dangerous temps by going to cool places. For people who don’t have or want to spend money to attend movies, go out to eat, or do any other commerce-based indoor activity, air-conditioned libraries are the perfect remedy for the heat.
Librarians welcome the potential influx of guests.
“Provided that our AC is working in all parts of the building and we have the staffing, a patron who is coming in for cooling center hours could use the computer, they could browse for books, they could charge their laptop, and use the WiFi and do their own work,” Nani Manion, a librarian at the Free Library of Philadelphia, told WHYY.
In Philadelphia, the city is deploying more libraries as cooling centers in lieu of parked city buses as it had done in the past. Last summer, the city set up cooling centers at 11 libraries with extended hours, in addition to four buses. This year, emergency management officials are working to confirm 13 brick-and-mortar cooling centers, such as libraries, rec centers, and senior centers.
“These are community spaces every day and really do have a good plan, every day, of how to meet people where they’re at with what they need,” said Dominick Mireles, director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management.
In East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, the library serves as a cooling center, as well as a place for the community to turn to during hurricane season.
Mary Stein, assistant library director of East Baton Rouge Parish Library System, told BRProud that the library parishes are good areas for those depending on power, activities, cool air, and needing a helping hand when it comes to issues regarding weather.
"We just love being a helpful resource and space is a resource, especially cool space in these hot times. So we invite you to come on in and sit down, cool off, charge up and stay safe in the summer,” she said.
The library's bookmobile provides a lifeline during weather emergencies, as well, Stein said.
“In a time of an emergency, we are community citizens," she said. "So whether the bookmobile is going out to places that have no power and then the bookmobile has its own power and allows people to come on the bus, cool off, charge up their phones, and then even access the information that they need for the emergency. We have even had FEMA agents on the bookmobile helping people sign up for assistance,” she said.
Manion told WHYY that people should not hesitate to come to a library cooling center, even if they once had outstanding fines on their library cards. Philadelphia libraries eliminated late fees in 2020.
“We’re fine-free. We are welcoming,” Manion said. “We want to reduce barriers, because we’re all in this climate change crisis together.”
Image by wirestock on Freepik