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Athens County Libraries Provide Safe Havens During Crisis

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Where do people go when they have no electricity, no Internet connections, no air conditioning and sometimes no food?  Some in Athens County are taking refuge at their public library.

The various branches of the county library system have witnessed an influx of people since last Friday’s devastating storms … some to use the wi-fi services, some to use the computers, and some just to cool off, according to James Hill, assistant director at the Athens County Public Libraries.

Last Saturday, the Athens Library on Home St. was one of the few spots in the city with electrical service and it was an extremely busy day, according to library staff.

Monday was even more unusual. Normally, the Athens Branch is closed on Monday but because of the power outages and the lack of water in some areas, the Library staff decided to open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The decision was well greatly appreciated, according to Hill. People were coming to the library in large numbers to charge their cell phones and laptops, to use the Internet and to simply cool off and cool down from the irritation of being power-less.

The influx of new business is not isolated to the Athens Branch. The Nelsonville Library has never lost power or Internet and it has had a steady stream of people – beyond the usual numbers – since Friday, Hill said.

Not only has the local library system provided respite for the weary, it also has provided food for children and teens at two branches.

The Chauncey and Coolville libraries normally provide free summer meals for children on Mondays and Tuesdays as part of the Summer Food Service Program. The Athens County system was the first public library group in Ohio to participate in the program in 1997 and it takes great pride in providing this service, according to Hill.

“Although neither location had electricity, the librarians felt it was still important (if not more so) to continue the free meals schedule,” Hill said. “Despite the heat and the dark, kids 1 to 18 were still fed in their small communities.”

The library at Chauncey served its usual customers – 29 meals on Monday and 30 on Tuesday. The Coolville library served 50 both days. That is about 15 more than usual.

“We at the Athens County Public Libraries feel that we are part of the backbone of our communities. During times of crisis, we want people to know that they can count on us to be there and to continue to serve them,” Hill said.