I’ve been attending some video conference meetings online with other librarians and library staff to have themed discussions about how we’re handling this current situation. Most recently, we discussed how we envision libraries and library services to evolve as the country reopens.
There were two big themes that came out of our discussions. Before moving forward, these themes emerged from the 200+ attendees, so the amount of agreement is pretty significant.
Removing Barriers to Access
We talked about what barriers we were likely to see when we reopen in addition to existing barriers that we may need to remove to help support our communities as they heal.
Some of the barriers to access are pretty obvious:
- Charging for printing/faxing/copying
- The building itself can be a barrier for those not able to travel
- Library policies that restrict who gets a library card
- Technology barriers – the databases we use to provide information for our patrons can be barriers to those without internet access
- Accessibility of online programs
Figuring out how to remove some or all of these barriers is a tricky task. Some of them are definitely more difficult or expensive than others. At this point, however, we need to take a hard look at what we can and should do to help people rebuild once we’re open to the public again.
Libraries as Places to Reconnect
Libraries have always been important third places for people to socialize and just relax, explore, and entertain themselves. Our current situation has made that more difficult since we need to limit the number of people in the building (for social distancing) and restrict access to some resources in the short term to protect the health of our staff.
One of the most difficult parts of this shutdown has been not seeing our patrons. The staff have warm relationships with many of our staff who visit and we love to make sure they get the services they need to solve problems, educate themselves, and provide a mental break through consumption of our library materials. A big part of this re-connection period will be checking in on our community. The sad part I’m bracing myself for is when some of our patrons don’t come back because they didn’t survive the virus. There will be grieving. There will definitely be tears. Our staff will need to heal from this.
Reconnecting with our community at the library will be tricky from a public health perspective for a little while, but we’ll push through it. We want our patrons to know that they’ve been missed and we’re doing what we can to keep them safe.
I’m learning a lot about virtual programming and what is needed to support that kind of work, but it’s also important to note that humans need face-to-face interaction; it’s just not something we’ll be able to offer in the same way for a while.