A unique city-county partnership is ending, and Rochester Public Library staff are heading back to the books, 15 months after launching a COVID-19 information hotline.

In March 2020, the city's Emergency Operations Center launched the COVID-19 Information Hotline in response to an overwhelming number of questions asked by residents and visitors.

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Library staff members, many sent home in the early days of the pandemic, were enlisted to answer calls to the hotline.

Soon, the call center team was also answering calls for Olmsted County Public Health, Channel One food bank and other services. In all, library teammates answered 7,767 COVID-related calls.

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Director of Emergency Management Ken Jones said the COVID-19 Information Hotline served a unique purpose, but as conditions improve, the calls are declining and it’s time to sunset the library’s role.

“In May, there was a 57% decrease in the number of calls compared with April, and that follows a large decline between February and March,” Jones said in a statement announcing the transition. “The highest number of calls came in during February, when 883 COVID-related calls were answered by library teammates. The majority of the calls at that time had to do with vaccines.”

Throughout the pandemic, library teammates answered questions about testing and mask mandates to inquiries about getting food assistance or vaccine information.

With the call center closing, library leaders are shifting staff into more library-centered activities.

Demand also is dropping at the library's walkup windows and those windows will be closed.

Library Director Audrey Betcher said with current COVID-19 conditions improving, and with the Call Center work ending, her team will shift to more in-person services.

“By shifting teammates from the call center and walkup windows, we are able to expand our building’s hours, something the community has been requesting," she said “Ending these two COVID responses are part of the final steps to returning to a more ‘normal’ schedule.”

Starting June 21, the library will offer limited in-person library access:

  • From 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
  • From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday.