Columbus Library CEO Talks Pandemic-Era Changes and the Importance of Reading

Patrick Losinski discusses the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of reading for children.

Peter Tonguette
Patrick Losinski, CEO of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, in the children’s department at Main Library in Downtown Columbus

During his nearly two-decade tenure leading the Columbus Metropolitan Library, CEO Patrick Losinski has seen his share of challenging and rewarding moments, but none quite so extreme as managing through the pandemic.

Although the system’s 23 branches faced periods of closure and limited service, it quickly found novel approaches to deliver books and other services, including curbside pickup and a full digital library. Students have stayed engaged via online K-12 homework help K-3 reading practice and virtual storytimes. While circulation dropped from 15.1 million in 2019 to 9.6 million in 2020, electronic content use ticked up—from 2.3 to 2.7 million.

A native of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, Losinski holds degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a master’s in library science from the latter. Following a stint running the Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs, he joined CML in 2002.

Losinski, 60, and his wife, Victoria, an art teacher at New Albany High School, have a grown son and daughter.

During college, did you always know you wanted to go into the library field?

I had an internship with a cable access television station. Well, the studio happened to be located in the public library. For a year, I just watched things go on. I was always using libraries through my education through college. One day—I must have been maybe 19 or 20 years old—I worked up the courage to ask if I could meet with the library director. It wasn’t a large library. He just took time to talk to me about his career and what the work was like and what he did. I tucked that away and continued with school and just had various stops along the way.

I was going to get a master’s degree in organizational communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For whatever reason, I had always continued to think about the library program. Really on a whim, with about maybe two months before the program was going to start, I applied and I got in.

There’s a saying in our field that a good librarian is an inch deep and a mile wide. I think I’m curious about a lot of different things.

Did you raise your family to read a lot?

I would almost take it up a level higher and say that education in general, whatever those passions would be, was something that I think was instilled in my wife and myself. Vicky has a master’s degree and another certification in elementary education. Our kids were watching her continue to pursue degrees, even though she was teaching. This may sound corny, but I used to tell my kids when they were younger and probably high school age that we had ancestors who left Europe in hopes for a better future for their descendants. You’ve got an opportunity—don’t squander it.

What have been some of your proudest moments leading the Columbus Metropolitan Library?

I think back to 2008 and 2009, with the Great Recession, and to think about how we managed the dramatic reduction in our finances. We all sort of shared in the sacrifice. We all took reductions in either pay or hours. But we were able to keep everyone employed, and then do the important work of the community. We had very quickly flipped our Homework Help Centers into Job Help Centers during the daytime. We had three years in a row where we had 40,000 people register for job help.

Our ability to safeguard our employees and to position them to help the community—that was really a special time.

Has it been easier to weather the pandemic having gone through that earlier experience?

There’s one part that is perhaps a little bit easier, but only one part: That is to know that life goes on, and there does come a time when the recovery occurs. The first times you go through it at its depths, you’re just wondering what ultimately is going to happen.

 In most crisis situations before this one, our libraries are jammed. Because of the pandemic, what makes it so challenging is to say: “All right, we can pivot as much as possible.” We can move to as much of an online environment as possible, and yet deep down we know we have such incredibly valuable resources in our buildings. Any other kind of natural crisis, as long as our buildings are open, we’re going to be full and helping people. That’s made this unique from anything that anyone on this team has ever had to do before.

What advice do you give to parents to help keep their children reading at home?

I would not get very hung up on what children are reading. I would just say to parents, “Make sure they are reading.” The greatest way to make sure they are reading, and instill a love of reading, is to give them material that aligns with their passion. Growing up, I wasn’t gravitating towards classic teen and children’s fiction as much as I was gravitating towards sports biographies. At some point, that all converges and leads to maybe reading about your passion in the newspaper—and then that leads to reading about more issues in the newspaper, through just serendipity.

A shorter version of this Q&A appears in “Snap” in the Spring 2021 issue of Columbus Parent.