As COVID-19 finds libraries facing service reductions and closures, we must find ways to continue to operate in order to meet the needs of our communities. Here are some tech solutions to aid libraries in providing continuity of service even as we practice social distancing.
Move Your Meetings Online
A huge part of mitigating risk is limiting physical interactions. If email is an appropriate substitute for a meeting–use it! Slightly more interactive are any number of cloud-based tools. These include Microsoft Sharepoint & Word Online, as well as free options like Google Docs/Google Drive. Utilizing collaborative software offers improved idea sharing & occurs in real time. Finally, utilize webinar/online meeting software including such as Zoom or GoToMeeting. Both Skype and Google Hangouts offer free and paid/institutional versions of their web conferencing software. All of these options can be effectively used on mobile devices, lessening the strain on limited library equipment.
What to Do About Programs?
Library programming is clearly being impacted by the COVID-19. High-risk and symptomatic people are being advised to avoid large groups and unnecessary social gatherings, and many library have already responded by scaling back programs or cancelling them altogether. If your library is still offering programs, consider recording them for those who cannot attend in person. An iPad with a simple tripod and an internet connection is a simple and effective setup. Facebook Live offers a good live-streaming option that can still be participatory. For a good guide to live-streaming for libraries, check out this Library Journal article. Ensure that any video you take is saved and can be viewed on your website, for those who may not be on social media. Additionally, post any documents or resources that would be of interest. For example, if you were streaming a soap making class, you should probably provide an ingredient list.
Live-streaming works particularly well with:
- Book discussions
- Lecture-style programs
- Concerts (which are particularly at risk of cancellation)
- Cooking classes & demonstrations
- Hosting virtual forums with government & healthcare professionals
In addition to recording select in-person programs that the library is conducting, consider offering virtual-only options. Why not take storytime online? Long before any pandemic fears, the Los Angeles Public Library has been recording their storytimes, fingerplays, and other activities.
As these were filmed with an audience, it should be logistically easier to do with just a library staff member, particularly as it pertains to audio. Don’t worry about having a terribly polished video–it’s ultimately the authenticity that matters. Your library has fostered connections between the community and its staff; continuing to offer virtual story time helps maintain a sense of the familiar for children. Have copyright concerns? This article from School Library Journal should help put you at ease.
Beef Up Your Digital Presence
Undoubtedly, the coronavirus will have more patrons accessing your library online. Knowing this, consider doing the following:
- Increase Your Collection of Digital Media: With the library closed or facing reduced foot traffic, reallocate your print and analog media budget into your eCollections. Purchase more eBooks & audiobooks and/or raise borrowing limits on these collections. Keep a closer eye on patron holds and increase your responsiveness.
- Focus On Virtual Reference: If you offer text and chat reference options, re-emphasize them to your public, and reinforce them with staff resources. Keep closer tabs on your email. If you don’t offer a chat or text option, consider examining services like Mosio’s Text A Librarian. If your databases offer remote access options that you are currently not utilizing, perhaps now is the time to explore them.
- Increase Your Social Media Monitoring: Expect an increase in questions, comments, and concerns on your social media platforms. Ensure that you are devoting adequate staff resources so you can provide timely responses.
Bridging the Digital Divide:
As you look to web-based solutions to help serve the public remotely, there will be those who lack WiFi access. This is a serious barrier that has no easy solution, though there are some ways to lessen its effects. Consider investing resources in mobile hotspot lending. Any devices that are lent out MUST be vigorously cleaned. What is more, they should be considered long-term loans to limit public interactions. Less risky, seek public-private partnerships for extending free WiFi access within your community.
COVID-19 poses a serious public health challenge. While libraries remain serially underfunded, we have always found a way to serve our public through trying times. I am confident that when all is said and done, we will add the novel coronavirus to a long list of challenges faced and overcome.