Friday, March 20, 2020

Library Life During COVID-19

So, things have been a bit bananas lately, eh?

Virtual storytime! Photo shows my toddler nieces watching a video of me reading a book
My library closed to the public on Monday, March 16 and we had an all-day staff meeting (keeping appropriately socially distanced from each other - we literally were sitting at eight separate tables for our leadership meeting) to inform staff and come up with a plan. Leadership brainstormed all the things we needed to think about and make changes to for when we closed. We ended up officially closing our physical locations that night and are currently closed through March 30.

It's super important to note that as of this writing, not every library building is closed and there are many still expecting staff to report in ways that I think are really dangerous. The American Library Association has released a statement have recommended that academic, public, and school library leaders evaluate closing libraries to the public to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We can continue to serve patrons without demanding that staff risk their lives by reporting to work. If a library in your community is still open or still requiring staff to report, speak up to library Board members and funding bodies (county or city councils, mayors, etc.) and tell them that for the safety of all, library staff should not be reporting.

How are we serving our patrons while our physical buildings are closed? 

There's an important distinction to be made here. Our physical buildings are closed, but that does not mean that library service has stopped. Our digital collections are available and we're working on making virtual programming available.

Ensure Access

One big task that we have on our plates right now is to make sure that as many people have access to our digital materials as possible. I worked with our ILS this week to extend due dates and hold pickup dates for our patrons, including anything checked out since 1/1/19, even if it had gone to lost. We also extended card expiration dates to the end of the year.

At this time we do not want anyone blocked from access to our digital materials. We are already a fine free library, so for us this includes forgiving outstanding fees and finding ways to work around lost materials and staying accessible so that if patrons have issues with their accounts (don't know their PIN, expired card, etc.) we can help them resolve those issues as quickly as possible.

We also provide online borrower registration. Typically, that gives new patrons 90-day access to our digital material without having to come inside the building to get a card. We extended the 90 days to provide access through the end of 2020.

Be Present

Facebook is our main source of patron interaction and we're making sure to check notifications and messages frequently. We are also checking our general information email regularly and staff have been assigned to check our various voicemails and respond to patrons. We are also offering programming as best we can.

Behind the scenes at the library! Photo shows library staff recording a puppet show and song on the ukulele

For children's programming, that's included recording story readalouds and storytimes ourselves, as well as sharing resources that others are providing.

Many publishers are responding to the COVID-19 school closures by offering special permissions for digital sharing of their books. Author Kate Messner has been collecting these policies on her website, which you can view here. With publishers doing their best to meet us halfway while still honoring their legal copyright contracts, librarians need to be doing our best to hold to these copyright standards when sharing materials online.

Some publishers are stipulating that materials only be shared in a closed group, such as a Google Classroom, etc. that's only available to a subset of students. My library hasn't explored what this looks like for us yet - so far we have been concentrating on titles from publishers that have offered more flexible options for public libraries. But it's something we're thinking about!

To round out what we're able to offer to patrons, we're also frequently posting resources from other sources that parents and kids may find interesting and useful. There are tons of folks and organizations offering virtual programs right now. Some of my favorites include:

I'm sure our list of virtual programming will grow as we navigate the coming weeks. Working from home when you're used to serving the community is super weird, even for someone like me who is mostly behind the scenes at my job now. I have found that staying in touch with my colleagues is really helpful to me and keeping track of tasks I want to accomplish in my bullet journal is helpful to me. And I guess we'll just see how things go as we get used to a "new normal". 

How are you living your library life during COVID-19?

I'd love to hear about the things you're doing or planning. What struggles are you having right now? What innovative services are you coming up with?