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Libraries are needed more than ever. But many aren’t sure how to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic

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Jazmine Adams-McNeal tried time and time again to explain to her young daughter why their weekly trips to the library stopped suddenly in March. 

It didn’t go over well. 

“It was a lot of meltdowns,” said Adams-McNeal, 31, of Ferguson, Missouri. She, her wife and their children – a 4-year-old girl and twin 2-year-old boys – are staples at their local library.  “My daughter grew up at the library. We stay going to all the programs. Definitely the lap-times on Fridays.” 

Amid all the talk of the country reopening, libraries across the nation are struggling to reopen their doors to communities that have come to rely on them not just for books, videos and reading hours, but also for an array of social services, from literacy programs, U.S. citizenship classes, housing and tax assistance and public bathrooms for the homeless. 

Just 37% of libraries plan to reopen by July, according to a recently released survey from the American Library Association. Nearly half of the nation’s libraries – 47% – do not have plans to reopen their doors to the public anytime soon, according to the association, which surveyed 3,800 libraries from all 50 states in May. 

Librarians and library patrons say it is an especially difficult time for libraries to be closed, with many school systems closed to students who might not have internet access at home and more than 44.2 million Americans filing jobless claims, many of whom would normally be able to seek assistance at their local library branch. 

“We all think of nurses and doctors as the first responders during the pandemic. And I would say that that’s absolutely true. They are the first responders – on health,” said Susan Benton, head of the research-focused  Urban Libraries Council. “Public libraries are the first responders on the recovery.”

More than just lending books, libraries have historically filled in the cracks of society, Benton said. 

Library usage surged a decade ago during the Great Recession, according to the American Library Association, because of free public access to the Internet, computers, workforce training, education classes and social services.

But the coronavirus pandemic has cut off that resource for vulnerable populations who may need help at a time when the U.S. is now officially in a recession. 

“Libraries are the most visited civic institution in the country,” said Tony Marx, president of New York City’s library. “And that’s because everyone uses the library. You know, whether you’re black or white, whether you’re red or blue, whether you’re rich or poor.”

A woman collects unemployment forms at a drive through collection point outside John F. Kennedy Library in Hialeah, Florida, on April 8, 2020.

What using the library during COVID may look like 

The Urban Libraries Council, which serves as a think-tank for hundreds of libraries in metro areas, has been convening leaders since quarantines began months ago to come up with a game plan for this moment.

“You know what it’s appropriate for San Francisco may not at all be appropriate for Tucson, Arizona, or for Miami, Florida,” Benton said. “It really varies from locality to locality.”

Still, some best practices have emerged. Many libraries, like businesses and local and state governments, are following a phased approach.

The first phase is likely to be a restart of book lending that’s curbside or contactless. Next, there could be limited in-person browsing and building visits. Third, there will likely be more open access to visit, meet and congregate within buildings.

Most libraries say they’re planning to step up cleaning and require masks by staff and the public.

“I won’t pretend that we aren’t apprehensive about aspects of this. We are. But we have to bear in mind how much the library means to a number of people,” said Waller McGuire, CEO of St. Louis City Public Library. “I know that we’re not a hospital and we’re not a grocery, but we’re a vital service.”

During the coronavirus lockdowns, St. Louis County Library turned its parking lots into sites for community giveaways. Residents were able to pick up emergency meals, diapers, feminine products and books.

St. Louis last week began allowing people to drop off library books they’ve had to hold onto for months because of stay-at-home orders. 

Returned materials will be quarantined for 72 hours before being eligible to be re-lent, another practice many libraries said they’d adhere to.

By the middle of June, five of the St. Louis’ libraries will open portions of their buildings for limited browsing. Less than 20 people will be allowed inside at one time, and there will be a 15-minute limit. 

“I know that everyone is anxious to return to a familiar, comfortable world, but we’re just not there yet,” McGuire said.

McGuire and others say they’re following the lead of their local governments. And they’re aware that this is an experiment. 

“One of the things that I worry about is … that it’s possible that if infection rates start to grow, it’s possible we’ll have to close back down again,” he said. 

Larger libraries will wait to reopen 

Chicago also opened some of its libraries this week, requiring social distancing, masks and giving people time limits for computer use. 

But many large library systems said they are still grappling with how to reopen safely, especially in communities that have seen high rates of coronavirus. 

That’s true especially in New York City, home to the nation’s largest library system and the epicenter of the pandemic thus far. As of Thursday, New York City had seen more than 205,000 cases and 17, 255 confirmed deaths. More than 2 million people in the U.S. have contracted COVID-19 and 113,168 have died from it.

“We know that the reopening of this city is going to be way messier than closing. Lots of hard decisions, lots of risk assessment,” Marx said. “We have to go carefully with reopening to ensure the safety of our staff and of the public.”

New York, too, is likely to stick to a phased approach, Marx said, beginning with minimal-to-no-contact book pickups, possibly in July.

There is no timeline or date to allow wider public access to buildings yet, Marx said.

John F. Szabo, head of the Los Angeles Public Library system, said officials there are getting “close” to calling library staff back to work and launching some sort of curbside book lending. 

“We’re not rushing anything. And we want to make certain that everything is in place and that it’s safe for both our staff and the public,” Szabo said. “But obviously, we’re eager to be of service.”

A man walks passed the Library in Manhattan on May 22, 2020 in New York City.

Digital demands surge 

Library leaders stress that while their doors have remained shut, their services haven’t ceased during the lockdowns.

E-book and audio borrowing is up. Kids’ storytelling is still happening via livestreams and video conferencing. Libraries are even coming up with creative ways to hold social distancing and virtual summer camps for children. 

“Since we’ve been closed, we’ve seen an 864% increase in people asking for library cards through our e-book app,” Marx said. “We’ve seen a 200% increase in new readers on our e-book platforms. I mean, we’ve got thousands of people going to webinars on how to save their businesses or start businesses.”

But that still leaves out those who can’t access or afford high-speed internet at home. And this digital divide adds to the urgency libraries feel to find solutions even if they can’t be fully open. St. Louis’ library, for example, bought hundreds of additional portable hot spots and laptops to lend out for the first time.

As millions of families hunker down amid the coronavirus crisis, students are taking school lessons at home.

Many libraries kept their Wi-Fi on so people without broadband access at home could use their networks even if they couldn’t be in the building. 

In St. Louis County, for example, leaders spent $6,300 on new equipment that would boost Wi-Fi signals. They also started giving away free meals, diapers, feminine products and books in their parking lots three times a week. 

“They always are there for the community,” said Adams-McNeal, “So it was no big surprise to me.”

She said she’s been using the drive-thru giveaway weekly, partly to relieve the strain on her family’s budget. She also grabs extra meals for her neighbors, who are out of work because of the pandemic. Plus, it’s the only way her daughter gets to still see the library employees she misses. 

Elsewhere, libraries are coming up with other creative ways to get services to people. 

In San Antonio, officials are turning four vehicles into mobile hot spots that will be sent into targeted low-income neighborhoods where home broadband internet isn’t as prevalent.

San Antonio Public Library Director Ramiro Salazar said the city also plans to allow limited computer access at some branches, because it’s so important for people to have Internet access right now. 

“I see libraries as the great equalizer,” Salazar said. “Especially during times of crisis, in times of hurricanes, floods, recessions, you name it. … We figure out a way to continue to serve.”

Library patrons, staff are eager and anxious about reopening 

In this Friday, April 17, 2020, file photo, Hillsborough County Library Service employee Stephen Duran, right, wears gloves to protect himself from the coronavirus outbreak as he hands unemployment paperwork to residents at the Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library in Tampa, Fla.

Elizabeth Dunnebacke says she and her family miss their local library terribly. But she’s also anxious. 

New Orleans, where the 49-year-old lives, was one of the hardest hit in the early days of the pandemic. 

“I would love for my kids to just be able to go over there, especially now that summer’s here,” Dunnebacke said. “It’s a safe indoor place that they can enjoy themselves. But I just don’t even know what that looks like right now in this post-COVID world.”

Dunnebacke said it seemed like libraries in New Orleans closed too late on March 16. Now she worries they could be opening too soon. She isn’t alone. 

Library associate Erin Wilson and other colleagues who work at New Orleans’ public libraries have been back on the job for a couple weeks. 

They’ve been less than impressed by the reopening plan. Libraries there are doing contactless lending for now, but Wilson said leadership has been vague about what comes next.

“The populace was being told that we would be open at 25% capacity,” Wilson said. “But for us, as the actual front-line staff enacting those plans, we really had no details. And we were told to all go have a meeting at our branch and that we would like figure it out.”

Wilson said workers at their branch decided on a staggered shift plan, and are now doing contactless lending. Wilson is sewing face masks for colleagues because there’s been a limited supply of personal protective equipment and cleaning materials handed out. 

Wilson said they are envious of libraries that have published detailed plans.

“Other libraries have had phase one, two and three planned for weeks,” Wilson said. “It really makes me sad because I don’t have this job because it’s high paying. I don’t have this job because I’m trying to, like, do anything except serve the community.”

Source: http://rssfeeds.usatoday.com/~/626936860/0/usatoday-newstopstories~Libraries-are-needed-more-than-ever-But-many-arent-sure-how-to-reopen-amid-the-coronavirus-pandemic/

Publications

Security and Sustainability Forum-With Hazel Henderson and Claudine Schneider. 10/22/2020

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Steering Societies Beyond GDP to the SDGs

With Hazel Henderson and Claudine Schneider

October 22, 2020

1:15 pm to 2:15 pm EDT

The next webinar in the SSF series, with ecological economist and futurist Hazel Henderson, will address how the UN SDGs can and should replace GDP as the basis for valuing society leading to an economy based on planet protection and human wellbeing. Claudine Schneider is Hazel’s guest.

GDP accounts for all the public expenditures as “debt” while ignoring the value of the assets they created. If GDP were to be corrected by including the missing asset account, these debt-to-GDP ratios would be cut by up to 50% — with a few keystrokes! Learn why money isn’t what you think it is and why that matters to life on Earth in the next two webinars with Hazel and guests.

Register

Claudine Schneider is a former Republican U.S. representative from Rhode Island. She was the first, and to date only, woman elected to Congress from Rhode Island. She is founder of Republicans for Integrity, which describes itself as a network of “Republican former Members of Congress who feel compelled to remind Republican voters about the fundamentals of our party and to provide the facts about incumbents’ voting records.”

October 22nd webinar with Claudine Schneider and Hazel

Sincerely,

Ed.

Edward Saltzberg, PhD

Executive Director

Security and Sustainability Forum

www.ssfonline.org

[email protected]

Sincerely,

Ed.

Edward Saltzberg, PhD

Executive Director

Security and Sustainability Forum

www.ssfonline.org

Source: https://www.ethicalmarkets.com/63564-2/

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The Briefing: RVShare raises over $100M, Google disputes charges, and more

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Here’s what you need to know today in startup and venture news, updated by the Crunchbase News staff throughout the day to keep you in the know.

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RVShare raises over $100M for RV rentals

RVShare, an online marketplace for RV rentals, reportedly raised over $100 million in a financing led by private equity firms KKR and Tritium Partners.

Akron, Ohio-based RVShare has seen sharp growth in demand amid the pandemic, as more would-be travelers seek socially distanced options for hitting the road. Founded in 2013, the company matches RV owners with prospective renters, filtering by location, price and vehicle types.

Previously, RVShare had raised $50 million in known funding, per Crunchbase data, from Tritium Partners. The company is one of several players in the RV rental space, and competes alongside Outdoorsy, a peer-to-peer RV marketplace that has raised $75 million in venture funding.

Funding news

  • BrightFarms closes on $100M: Indoor farming company BrightFarms said it secured more than $100 million in debt and new equity capital to support expansion plans. The Series E round of funding was led by Cox Enterprises, which now owns a majority stake in the company, and includes a follow-on investment from growth equity firm Catalyst Investors.
  • Anyscale inks $40MAnyscale, the Berkeley-based company behind the Ray open source project for building applications, announced $40 million in an oversubscribed Series B funding round. Existing investor NEA led the round and was joined by Andreessen Horowitz, Intel Capital and Foundation Capital. The new funding brings Anyscale’s total funding to more than $60 million.
  • Klar deposits $15M: Mexican fintech Klar closed on $15 million in Series A funding, led by Prosus Ventures, with participation from new investor International Finance Corporation and existing investors Quona Capital, Mouro Capital and Acrew. The round brings total funding raised to approximately $72 million since the company was founded in 2019. The funds are intended to grow Klar’s engineering capabilities in both its Berlin and Mexico hubs.
  • O(1) Labs rakes in $10.9M: O(1) Labs, the team behind the cryptocurrency Mina, announced $10.9 million in a strategic investment round. Co-leading the round are Bixin Ventures and Three Arrows Capital with participation from SNZ, HashKey Capital, Signum Capital, NGC Ventures, Fenbushi Capital and IOSG Ventures.
  • Blustream bags $3M: After-sale customer engagement company Blustream said it raised $3 million in seed funding for product usage data and digital transformation efforts for physical goods companies via the Blustream Product Experience Platform. York IE led the round of funding for the Worcester, Massachusetts-based company with additional support from existing investors.Pillar secures another $1.5M: Pillar, a startup that helps families protect and care for their loved ones, raised $1.5 million in a seed extension to close at $7 million, The round was led by Kleiner Perkins.

Other news

  • Google rejects DOJ antitrust arguments: In the wake of a widely anticipated U.S. Justice Department antitrust suit against Google, the search giant disputed the charges in a statement, maintaining that: “People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives.”
  • Facebook said to test Nextdoor rival: Facebook is reportedly testing a service similar to popular neighborhood-focused social Nextdoor. Called Neighborhoods, the feature reportedly suggests local neighborhood groups to join on Facebook.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

Venture investors and leaders in the fintech space can visualize a future where such startups will move toward again rebundling services.

Root Inc., the parent company of Root Insurance, launched its initial public offering and is looking at a valuation of as much as $6.34 billion.

Clover Health posted rising revenues and a narrower loss in its most recent financial results, published in advance of a planned public market debut.

Crunchbase News’ top picks of the news to stay current in the VC and startup world.

Source: https://news.crunchbase.com/news/briefing-10-21-20/

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Crunchbase

Syte Sees $30M Series C For Product Discovery

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Online shopping has become the norm for most people in 2020, even coaxing traditional retail brands to up their presence to stay competitive. However, now that shoppers can’t see and touch products like they used to, e-commerce discovery has become a crucial element for customer acquisition and retention.

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Enter Syte, an Israel-based company that touts creating the world’s first product discovery platform that utilizes the senses, such as visual, text and voice, and then leverages visual artificial intelligence and next-generation personalization to create individualized and memorable customer experiences, Syte co-founder and CEO Ofer Fryman told Crunchbase News.

To execute on this, the company raised $30 million in Series C funding and an additional $10 million in debt. Viola Ventures led the round and was joined by LG Technology Ventures, La Maison, MizMaa Ventures and Kreos Capital, as well as existing investors Magma, Naver Corporation, Commerce Ventures, Storm Ventures, Axess Ventures, Remagine Media Ventures and KDS Media Fund.

This brings the company’s total fundraising to $71 million since its inception in 2015. That includes a $21.5 million Series B, also led by Viola, in 2019, according to Crunchbase data.

Fryman intends for the new funding to be put to work on product enhancements and geographic expansion. Syte already has an established customer base in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and will now focus expansion in the U.S. and Asia-Pacific.

Meanwhile, Syte has grown 22 percent quarter over quarter, as well as experienced a 38 percent expansion of its customer base since the beginning of 2020.

“Since we crossed $1 million annual recurring revenue, we have been tripling revenue while also becoming more efficient,” Fryman said. “We can accelerate growth as well as build an amazing technology and solution for a business that needs it right now. We plan to grow further, and even though our SaaS metrics are excellent right now, our goal is to improve them.”

Anshul Agarwal, managing director at LG Technology Ventures, said Syte was an attractive investment due in part to its unique technology.

“They have a deep-learning system and have created a new category, product discovery that will enable online shopping in a way we never had the ability to do before,” Agarwal said. “The product market fit was also unique. We believe in the strong execution by the team and the rapid growth in SaaS. We looked at many different companies, and the SaaS metrics that Syte showed are the strongest we’ve seen in a while.”

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

Venture investors and leaders in the fintech space can visualize a future where such startups will move toward again rebundling services.

Root Inc., the parent company of Root Insurance, launched its initial public offering and is looking at a valuation of as much as $6.34 billion.

Clover Health posted rising revenues and a narrower loss in its most recent financial results, published in advance of a planned public market debut.

Crunchbase News’ top picks of the news to stay current in the VC and startup world.

Source: https://news.crunchbase.com/news/syte-sees-30m-series-c-for-product-discovery/

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