Libraries Are on the Front Lines of COVID Recovery
Libraries have been working since April 2020 to aid in the pandemic effort. From transforming their parking lots into mobile hotspots to offering health and wellness information to hosting vaccination clinics. Public health has always been an aspect of library outreach. The pandemic has made these efforts even more important. Connecting communities to important health resources is a crucial role that libraries have stepped up to fill.
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Since vaccines were approved through emergency authorization by the FDA and officially cleared just a few months ago mobile vaccine clinics have been a key focus for health officials everywhere. Many nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and other institutions have pushed for increased vaccination efforts.
Everyone has stepped in to help in some way. Corporate companies have hosted onsite vaccination events, health businesses and pharmacies have sent their healthcare teams out to rural areas and long-term care facilities, and even schools have provided vaccination sites for those who want one.
Libraries sit at the center of their communities. Often, they are the first point of contact for people, especially in communities of diverse and economically disadvantaged populations. It makes sense that libraries would be a great location for vaccine clinics. Public libraries were quick to take advantage of this. Knowing that they had access to community members that may otherwise not have access to vaccinations elsewhere, they partnered with healthcare providers throughout the community to set up vaccine administration centers. Members of the community who usually used the library for other reasons could walk in and get their vaccine immediately if they wanted to.
The Kansas City Public Library is one of the many examples of a successful vaccination site. They kept a close finger on the pulse of this public health crisis, adapting strategies when new strains such as the Delta variant were discovered. This library system has been partnering with the KC CARE Health Center to increase access to the vaccine within the community. Those who visit their various branches can receive a free COVID-19 vaccine. These clinics are held every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at different locations to maximize reach. There are even Spanish translators on-site for those who need it.
As more about the virus and vaccines are known, they alter what their clinics look like. For example, the vaccine was recently approved in children, so the library has opened vaccine sites for those ages 5 years and up. Booster shots have also been a popular topic in the news lately. The library and its partner have begun offering booster shots for eligible groups like the elderly, those who work in high-risk settings, or people who are a certain time frame out from their last dose.
Testing has been highly encouraged throughout the pandemic as people increasingly can recognize the signs of COVID-19. Frequent testing helps health entities keep accurate data on how the virus is spreading and affecting communities.
At the beginning of the pandemic, COVID-19 tests were only available at pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals. The availability grew as companies were able to meet the demand. Soon, locations all around the community also become hosting sites for COVID-19 testing. Many libraries ran testing sites multiple days a week at varying times to ensure those who needed to get tested would easily be able to. These were free services that allow patrons to self-administer a test and receive results within a day or two.
As advancements were made, COVID testing became something that people could take home with them and send to labs for results. The Lakewood Public Library released a list of all libraries in the area that patrons could go to pick up COVID test kits. These included many library branches in Ohio with some offering drive-through pickups.
Educating the Public
Sharing information is an important part of the public health response. There has been conflicting information and tons of sources that are releasing news that may or may not be accurate regarding the virus and the vaccine. A critical task that many libraries have taken on is addressing any concerns that the public may have and ensuring that they are not only getting the right information but able to evaluate the credibility of what they’re being exposed to.
OCLC is a global library cooperative that provides technology services, research, and community programs for the library community. They have created a variety of resources and webinars that libraries can use to educate community members. One creative OCLC initiative that addresses many of the problems that have surfaced is a virtual escape room webinar that covers the topic of misinformation. This Misinformation Escape Room is a way to teach community members how to spot inaccurate information that they might see on social media. This is an event that is hosted by library staff. Players spend a little over an hour going through common forms of misinformation like graphics, blogs, and other social media deep fakes.
There are other topics that this resource and many others cover that are helpful during the pandemic such as self-care, vaccine handouts, and other health and wellness topics.
Free Resources for All
Resources are what libraries are known for. Beyond the books and technology, libraries have also worked to implement useful tools and resources for community members as needs shift during the pandemic.
The Delaware Libraries have increased the number of legal resources available for patrons. One example of this is the weekly workshops they have hosted addressing a variety of legal topics like divorce, childcare, and eviction. These are available online after each session for people to reference as needed. Libraries have played an important role as a legal aid connection for those in the community who are facing unexpected legal problems as a result of the pandemic.
In addition, libraries are cognizant of other resources that community members might require such as essentials for their kids and meals. The St. Louis County Library partners with a local diaper bank allowing families to pick up monthly supplies at five of their branches. They have also continued providing afterschool meals for students who need some extra food to take home. These are available at eight library locations every weekday.
Finally, PPE or personal protective equipment has been much needed throughout the entire pandemic. Libraries have helped distribute masks, sanitizer, and other supplies and utilized their maker space labs to produce 3D printed PPE.
Libraries have stepped up to the plate in the country’s pandemic mobilization. While their doors may have had to close for varying lengths of time during the lockdown, libraries and library staff continue to work diligently to support their communities and provide aid wherever they could.
Visit www.everylibrary.org to learn how you can help support the important work that libraries do to help our country recover from the effects of the COVID crisis.