Using Idle Library Tech to Fight COVID-19

Closings and service reductions have left some libraries with an array of technology that currently sits idle. Rather than let this equipment gather dust, why not add it to the fight against the Coronavirus? Below are two ways your library may be able to help.

Add Your Computers’ Processing Power to the Search for Treatments

folding@home simulation being run on a computer

Your typical library contains a sizable network of staff and patron computers. At present, many of these computers and laptops sit unused. That said, there is a great need for their processing power! Folding@Home is a volunteer project that utilizes tens of thousands of computers to help run digital simulations of COVID-19. In short, the processing power of all these disparate laptops/PCs operate as a sort of supercomputer, piecing out complex data as small packages to many devices. The project ultimately aims to understand COVID-19’s biochemistry and reveal potential weaknesses that can be exploited. Consider installing this software on library computers not in use.

3D Print Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

picture of 3d printed face shield
A face shield 3D-printed at the J. Willard Marriott Library of the University of Utah

Hospitals, clinics, and other medical facilities have been reporting shortages of PPE. With this in mind, your idle 3D printer can be used to produce much-needed equipment. In Suffolk County, New York, libraries have gathered more than sixty 3D printers at the Suffolk Cooperative Library System to form one massive 3D printer farm. This farm is currently churning out face masks for front-line health care workers. Production is expected to hit more than 200 masks daily!

an image of suffolk county's 3d print farm
Above: The Suffolk Cooperative Library System’s print farm.

Looking to join the fight? David Ecker, the Director of Stony Brook University’s iCREATE Lab has provided files and detailed instructions on assembling these face masks!

In Conclusion

COVID-19 has created massive service disruptions. What is worse, is the sense of helplessness it can engender. With a little ingenuity, you can reconfigure some of your library’s equipment to contribute to the fight against the coronavirus, creating a sense of purpose and making a real difference in your community and beyond.

Preparing Your Digital Collection for An Influx of Users

With many libraries now either closed to the public or facing reduced hours, patrons are being directed to our virtual branches. Knowing this, is your digital collection ready?

Can Patrons Access Your Collection?

A valid library card is a pretty standard prerequisite for using the library’s digital collection. Knowing this, what options are available to patrons with expired or blocked cards, or those with no card at all? Depending on your library’s situation, it may be impossible (or at least inadvisable) to have people come to your physical location for cardholder services. Instead, consider the following:

  • Perform a mass renewal/extension of library cards: Such extensions will prevent patrons from losing digital access to your services and reinforce social distancing.
  • Ensure staff have mobile/remote access to your ILS: Remote access will ensure staff can deal with any cardholder issues that may arise going forward, lest patrons be cut off from your digital branch without recourse.
  • Enable patron-driven temporary cards:  In Suffolk County, we are allowing patrons to sign up for a temporary card, good for 90 days. This card can be used to use databases, digital media, and other online services. Such an option can provide critical access to new users, as well as serve as a stand-in for lost or expired cards.

This is also the time to check your help/how to section regarding your digital collection. Is it up to date? A patron with a valid card who cannot understand how to borrow content is as cut off from your digital branch as a tech savvy patron with an expired card.

Is There Anything for Users to Borrow?

picture of empty shelves

If you’re going to engage in active promotion of your collection of eBooks, audiobooks, streaming movies, and other digital content, you need to be prepared to meet user demand. Failure to do so will leave patrons engaged in a futile search for an eBook akin to the quest for toilet paper at Target. As it now stands, our print and analog collection is going to be underutilized for the next 12 to 18 months, due to both social distancing, and a general avoidance by our public of heavily touched surfaces. Knowing this, you should be reallocating these funds to further invest in digital media. While spending more on content is a good first step, there are several other approaches you can take to make your expenditures go further:

  • Draw attention to collections with favorable borrowing rules: Collections like Hoopla, Kanopy, and others employ a cost-per-checkout model ensuring items will always be available, which can reduce user frustration. Additionally, some vendors are making a shift from one-copy, one-checkout to simultaneous use.
  • Curate free digital collections: Project Gutenberg has a massive collection of public domain eBooks. For audiobooks, try sites like LibriVox. In both cases, you can provide unlimited access to a fairly expansive collection of classics.
  • Rationing: This is probably the least attractive option. Simply put, rationing would involve tightening lending rules, such as limiting the loan period of materials or reducing the number simultaneous loans by an individual user. This can effectively allow more people to borrow less material. Consider this a last resort.

As you expand your digital collection, be sure to keep a close watch on your holds list. Ideally, you will want to be as responsive as possible as patron use shifts to this format.

Keep Abreast of Recent Vendor/Publisher Changes

In the face of a pandemic, there have been a number of changes taking place with vendors and publishers. Recently, Macmillan dropped its library eBook embargo, increasing the potential depth of your collection. Streaming movie service Kanopy is offering a credit-free collection for viewing. Overdrive has curated a collection of free and low-cost eBook & audiobook titles, and is currently providing a simultaneous access model for some content.

Don’t Forget the Kids!

child reading an ebook on an iPad

Children and young adult titles are often an underutilized portion of our collection. With many schools now closed, prepare this collection for increased attention. Many vendors offer public library/public school eBook partnerships. Consider exploring these! Presently, the Sora Reading App is extending no-cost eBooks and audiobooks to remote learnersTumblebooks is a collection that is easily accessed by computer or mobile device, and its content allows for unlimited simultaneous access. Don’t have a subscription, Tumblebooks has begun giving libraries free access to some of their collection until August 31, 2020!

In Conclusion

Patrons are headed for our digital collections–with our encouragement. When they arrive at our digital branch, let’s do all we can to ensure the experience is a positive one!

Tech Tools to Help Your Library Cope with the Coronavirus

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.

In Conclusion:

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.