Libraries Answer The Challenge During COVID
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown everyone for a loop. Schools, businesses, hospitals, etc. have all had to learn how to adapt to the new environment that 2020 has brought. Libraries are no different. Faced with the challenge of continuing to provide resources to patrons and ensuring the community gets access to what they need, libraries and librarians have employed a vast array of creative ideas.
In addition to working around recent budget constraints and the growing needs of communities for technology and materials, libraries in the COVID age have their work cut out for them. Earlier in the year, many libraries across the country and the world were subject to stay-at-home orders required by the government. However, these learning institutions did not use the time at home to relax or put a pause on services. Instead, librarians reworked their systems and procedures so that they could continue serving the community, expanding resources, and preparing for when libraries would be allowed to allow in-person interactions again. Take a look at some of the innovative ideas that libraries have begun implementing.
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Reallocating Resources To Adapt
Financial situations of individual libraries varied at the start of the pandemic. While some libraries had an extra boost in budget due to additional city funding like York libraries, others were faced with budget shortfalls and furloughs. However, libraries were quick to act and began moving money around to resources that could benefit from extra funding. The New York Public Library was able to use portions of their reallocated print budget towards additional resources. Since patrons would not be able to access physical materials as easily, this library was able to put these budgets towards other needs.
Other libraries have come up with the fun idea of sending out books in a box to patrons in the community. These boxes of goodies were based on the idea of subscription boxes. The Nacogdoches Public Library sends a box based on themes that contain books, DIY materials, and reading recommendations as well as other fun items. The Eisenhower Public Library has worked specifically to provide teens with interesting book selections and fun objects that relate the book. In addition, librarians like Jamillah Gabriel have created curated book box services that focus specifically on promoting and sharing books written by new Black authors. These methods have not only helped enrich the lives of people living in quarantine but are also bringing education and insight into many complex and important topics.
The Aurora Public Library has made great use of its 3D printers during COVID. While these machines remained relatively untouched by patrons due to the closing of libraries early on, librarians were quick to use their printers for other purposes. This library specifically dedicated their time and efforts towards making face masks for healthcare workers to use in treating patients. By coming up with new ways to use existing resources, libraries have been able to continue working with their communities in keeping people entertained, educated, and safe.
Advertising Ready Online Materials
Online materials became an instant go-to solution for libraries to keep up their programming and services to the community. Many libraries had collections of online material ready and waiting to be utilized to their fullest potential. In recent years, many libraries had already been investing in and partnering with reading apps so that books could be borrowed virtually. This pandemic was an opportunity for libraries to really delve into the digital space and advertise the hundreds of thousands of materials that were already available to patrons.
Many libraries had already expanded into a variety of digital spaces, for example, podcasts. The New York Public Library offers a biweekly podcast that walks the line between dialogue on new titles and a traditional book club. The British Library also produces an Anything But Silent podcast that engages readers by inviting authors and professors to talk about books. These avenues of interaction give learners additional options for participating in library events.
Live streaming and video calls are common in the COVID era. Libraries have completely taken advantage of these technologies to reach their patrons and create some semblance of regular routines in the daily lives of community members.
It has understandably become more difficult to hold massive book releases and signings. But libraries have used the idea of virtual book festivals to make up for canceled, in-person literary happenings. For example, The Library of Congress in Washington D.C. has completely moved its annual book festival online. What once was a weekend of in-person Q&As, author chats, and meet and greets have become completely virtual. This event has been redesigned to include on-demand videos and live author conversations. The digital space has also allowed this event to accommodate over 120 well-known writers, poets, and illustrators who may otherwise have not had the opportunity to attend an in-person event.
Local libraries have also made scheduled events on livestream platforms from storytime online readings to reaching out to patrons to make recommendations, set up online library cards, and share information. To make these livestream sessions even more engaging, especially for children, libraries have even incorporated live animals like guinea pigs to reading sessions.
The pandemic has limited people’s ability to visit libraries themselves due to a variety of reasons. Whether practicing personal safety, watching school children in the home, or working extended hours now that offices are closed, there are plenty of new factors that prevent people from going to libraries themselves. This is why libraries have also decided to tackle mobility and sent their services out to the community. Libraries like the Toledo Lucas County Public Library are not only concerned about books, they are focused on making sure people are able to access resources they usually come in for. These Ohio libraries have deployed vehicles whose purpose is to deliver WiFi hotspots to those that need it. The Los Angeles Public Library has looked into similar services and are using their “Street Fleet”, originally geared towards providing mobile Makerspace studios, to address the digital gap by supplying homeless encampments and senior centers with computers and internet.
Socially Distanced Environments
Most importantly, libraries have been preparing for the reopening of buildings. The key idea behind reopenings is to create environments that cater to the needs of the community while keeping them safe. Signs have been reintroduced to library buildings to remind people to stay distanced. Traffic in libraries is being directed one way with arrows and instructions to guide patrons. No contact services will also be available for those who want to maintain distance. Curbside pickups, book drops, and contactless printing are just a few options of these services.
Another creative idea is book walks around neighborhoods that maintain the much-needed social distancing but gives community members, especially children, a way to walk and read through an outdoor library without being put at risk.
Libraries have always been at the forefront of advocating for their communities and, now, due to the effects of the pandemic, they are also at the forefront of creativity and development. It’s obvious that these institutions not only have the community’s best interests in mind but that they are also capable of fulfilling this mission and rising to the challenge in any circumstance.