Innovative Ways Libraries Are Helping Communities During COVID

Libraries are always changing and growing to help their communities — now more than ever.

Since the Coronavirus pandemic became a prevalent global presence earlier this spring, many organizations have had to adapt the way they run to keep their doors open to the community in some capacity. Libraries around the world have been especially innovative with coming up with smart and effective ways to continue serving their communities.

Libraries are diverse centers that offer endless opportunities and resources to their communities. Beyond access to materials and books, libraries also provide educational workshops, access to technology and internet, afterschool and summer programs, and many more resources. The pandemic has not changed libraries’ missions. Public libraries have been coming up with creative ideas to adapt their services in the face of COVID restrictions and shutdowns. These libraries have developed novel ways of tackling life in the time of Coronavirus. Here are highlights of just a few of the many that are working to serve their communities.


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Curbside Pickups

To foster socially distanced communities and ensure patrons are being compliant with government health guidelines, libraries have turned to methods such as curbside pickups that allow patrons to continue checking out books. Take a look at the Moscow Public Library for example. After community buildings started shutting down in response to the pandemic, the staff at the library began looking into alternative ways for people to continue checking out movies and books. The Moscow Public Library developed protocols and researched CDC information on safety and sanitization protocols. This led to online scheduling for pickups as well as occupancy limits. In addition, this library, along with any others across the country, have waived library fines which works to break down economic barriers that communities may be facing.

Another local library system in Lincoln, Nebraska took curbside pickup a step further by creating a book bundle process. The Lincoln City Libraries created a system of book delivery that would get materials to their patrons faster as well as reducing the chance of COVID spread. These bundles come with two options, a ready-made bundle that comes with pre-selected books, or a second, personalized option that allows people to pick and choose the books that go into their bundle. The libraries are excited because this ensures safety while also encouraging the community, especially kids, to continue developing their love of reading.

Ebooks and Digital Services

Libraries have also been taking advantage of digital platforms to engage and connect with their communities. Many have noted a rise in the number of people using online resources like Libby, Kanopy, or Hoopla to access music, audiobooks, films, and ebooks. Locations like The Public Library of Springfield, Illinois have even opened up resources like Rosetta Stone for language learning, Scholastic Teachables for lesson plans and puzzles, Bookflix for read-aloud storybooks, and Brainfuse for live homework help for online access. Many of these important online programs will help keep the community functioning as areas transition back into school and work.

St. Joseph’s two library systems are offering a service for members of the community who haven’t even utilized their services yet. People that have not yet applied for physical library cards yet can apply for e-cards which give them access to onlines services. This way, people who didn’t or couldn’t visit the library would still be able to use free materials offered by the library like e-books, audiobooks, movies, and research databases

ImagineIf Libraries located in Montana has been working to help solve the technology access problems that many are experiencing during the pandemic. The libraries recently implemented a Tech Connect program that is working towards bridging the technology divide by providing free wifi hotspots, iPads, and tablets for the community to use. While this project was something they wanted to fund for a while, the recent COVID crisis emphasized the importance of supplying technology for those who may have trouble accessing it. These devices are available for checkout periods of two weeks, meaning people will not have to stress as much over the technology gap.

Public Outreach

Public outreach has always been a core aspect of the work libraries do. This is one of the many things that libraries are continuing to uphold while they navigate new restrictions and health guidelines.

Operation Hope is an initiative created by the Chicago Metropolitan Area public libraries. This initiative turns book returns into locations for donations of important protective equipment like masks, sanitizers, gloves, gowns, etc. Currently, there are seven libraries that are participating in this program. This unique way of utilizing library resources has been helping hospitals with their collection of vital PPE for their staff and first responders. Not only is the library system contributing to their local healthcare workers, they have also mobilized the community to create handsewn masks and gowns to alleviate the stress of equipment shortages many hospitals are facing.

Libraries around the world are recognizing the difficulty many people are facing during the pandemic. On top of concerns for personal safety, many are struggling with the extended periods in isolation they have to endure. Melbourne’s regional libraries closed back in March but have refocused their public outreach efforts by connecting with the elderly population in the area. These libraries have been reviewing their databases and calling to check in on anyone over the age of 70 years old. Not only do they offer them a friendly conversation in bleak times, they also offer help in finding access to services, counseling support, tech help, and refer them to additional services that may be helpful. These calls do not have limits which means some have gone on for over half an hour. This considerate service being offered by Australia’s libraries have really aided those that are looking for social interaction and support.

Therapy dogs have many physical, socal, and cognitive benefits for people. They’ve been used to help calm anxiety, increase self-esteem, destress, and stimulate memory. Even during COVID, therapy dogs are able to carry out their duties. Organizations in New Jersey that regulate, test, and register therapy dogs have partnered up with libraries to help therapy dogs continue their work. Before, these dogs made in-person visits to nursing homes, schools, and hospitals. Now, these therapy dogs visit libraries and participate in Zoom sessions where patrons are able to practice reading to him. Reading to dogs helps children develop confidence with their skills and allows them to practice reading without the added anxiety over judgments and corrections. These “Barks and Books” virtual programs have not only motivated children but have also been fun for these therapy dogs who like connecting with people.

Public Libraries are Always Changing and Growing

While there is no clear ending to COVID or definite future of how these next few months will go it is obvious that libraries are prepared to take on any challenge and adapt to ensure their communities are still being cared for. Libraries are not just centers for reading and entertainment, they also establish standards for community building that have not let up during the pandemic. All of these libraries have come up with original, fun, and safe ways for communities to continue using and enjoying the resources and programming that local libraries have to offer. Although COVID-19 has been an unpredictable experience for everyone, libraries will continue to maintain a stable and supporting environment for those who need them.