libraries in the pandemic

Library innovations introduced under COVID-19 that we love and want to keep

March 5, 2021
Clare Brown

Twitter can be an inspiring place for information people, and we are all in need of being part of a supportive, friendly, and sharing community. #UKLibChat is one of my favourite events in the month and their discussion topics are always relevant. The blurb from February’s focus said, 

The rapid onset and prolonged impact of the Covid-19 pandemic forced libraries to radically rethink how they delivered their existing services, refocusing on online services and increasing support to soften the blow of the sudden change to user bases often more used to using library services and facilities in person than remotely. 

As we look back over almost a year of change, this #uklibchat we are asking what longer term impact the pandemic might be having on libraries, what innovations we are most proud of and intend to retain after library buildings reopen, and what trends have started or accelerated in response to repeated lockdowns.

I wanted to enlarge upon some of the ideas that were mentioned, and highlight some thoughts. We touch on new services such as online book discussions/story time, the challenges and successes of e-resources, mental health awareness and wobble rooms, flexible working and the future of online services. 

Q1 - What library service changes and innovations have you introduced in response to the pandemic?

Public libraries have been busy introducing online versions of their story times, book clubs, and other services, while libraries in all sectors have refocused their enquiry services on virtual/online chat services. It's been important for library and information services to reassure their end-users that some services are still operational. For example here is the services page from the University of Cambridge Library

 

Alan Wylie revealed that their service has been closed since the beginning of the last lockdown and at other times during the last 12 months. Therefore the only thing he can think of doing is scrapping fines, which he suggests all services should do anyway. More funding is required to expand online subscriptions. 

 

Click and collect is popular. It is a new and free service for library users who want to explore books and reading during lockdown. Although the library space isn't open for library browsing, the government has specified that libraries may offer a click and collect service.

 

To get the best value from existing and new e-resources, end-users need training. One of the best ways to engage with people is through these sessions, and they are relatively easy to do online - with clearly written supporting documentation, and 1-to-1 assistance when needed. 

 

More innovation is required when it comes to compiling library statistics - this blogpost is helpful. For those responsible for putting together reports, keeping track of days open is going to be a challenge. Perhaps a more useful statistic would be the number of hours that the reference service has been online - or how many spaces had been booked? 

Q2 - What sorts of longer term changes in libraries do you think have been initiated or accelerated by recent experiences?

The move to online resources has been historically sporadic; from experience there have always been those end-users who hold on to their legal text books. However, necessity has forced people to embrace e-books and e-journals, they had no choice - but we need to remain empathic to their needs! 

 

But if the winner has been e-resources, the big loser has been hard copy publishing. There are concerns about this, as there are still library customers who don't have access to e-readers and kindles, and they will continue to rely on paper copy. There are many financial implications that need to be straightened out too. 

 

Library and information professions have always been embedded within their communities and organisations, so I hope that we have always been alert to individual needs. The pandemic has highlighted health and mental wellbeing, but our responses and care has to be a genuine, and not just a box-checking exercise. 

 

This library initiative from Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is a real asset. They said, "everyone needs space to have a ‘wobble’, so a wobble room is a place to escape to - to think, share worries, sit quietly, and reflect on our discombobulated feelings in these abnormal times".

Q3- Do you and your colleagues plan to continue working entirely or partly from home after the pandemic ends?

This has been an extraordinary experience for many people; both positive and negative. Those who have been struggling for years to convince employers are suddenly able to demonstrate its success. But on the other hand some are desperate to get back to places of work. In the future, compromise might be possible:

 

I hope that one of the outcomes of the pandemic will be an increased trust between management and staff. After all, if your staff can be productive in such challenging circumstances, isn't that something to nurture and celebrate going forward? CPD time is an excellent idea:

 

Q4 - What lessons have you learned from responding to this pandemic?

The range of answers to this question suggest that everything has changed, including the nature of change itself! One thing that I have taken away from this is the fact that library and information people are more important than ever - as is their ability to be parents and carers. 

 

I know it refers to a different question, but I have learnt that I love parties and I'm ready for a big, wild and noisy meet up with everyone, as soon as we are able!

 

Interestingly, one librarian said "here's a thing I think has been better since lockdown, and I hope continues: using PayPal pools (or similar) for workplace birthday/retirement/ etc collections. Why were we ever just passing around envelopes full of pound coins around the office??". Indeed - I can see the benefits. 

 

I think everyone has discovered strengths they didn't know they had, and have developed skills that they didn't know they needed. 

Q5. Should online videos replace or complement face-to-face teaching and other contact services when normalcy returns?

This is an easy one - online videos are a great way to supplement face to face teaching. You can watch them again and again to make sure you understand how to do something. Over the past few years, there has been a move towards video how-tos and so this won't change. But people will always appreciate the personal touch!

 

Keep following all the wonderful library and information people on social media for insight and inspiration. 

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