Director’s Corner: Silver Linings in the Time of Covid

I apologize for that awkward mash up of book titles, but those are the first words that come to mind when I think about the state of our libraries right now. On September 14th it will have been six months to the day since we were forced to cancel our annually popular STEM Fest event and close our libraries to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19. As the Director of the White Oak Library District, I have spent these past six months learning a lot about this virus and our ability to fight its spread. 

After 11 weeks of sheltering in place at home, we brought our staff back to work full time and launched a contactless curbside pickup service on June 1st and reopened our library buildings to the public on June 8th. I am proud of our entire staff and the great job they continue to do in balancing the public’s need to access our services with our need to protect both staff and public from this terrible virus. 

So what are these silver linings to which I have eluded? I have started to look at what sort of lemonade we can make with this bunch of lemons that 2020 has brought us. As I reflect on what our library services have meant to our communities in recent years, it conjures a fairly clear picture of three types of residents. They are:

  1. Those who use and enjoy our libraries in traditional ways;
  2. Those who have started to use and enjoy our libraries in non-traditional ways;
  3. Those who think libraries are superfluous – this thought is often accompanied by a statement such as “I don’t need a library, everything is online now”

I remain confident that we can continue to attract and serve residents falling into the first two categories, but for years now we have struggled to reach those in that third category.    

During this pandemic we have seen our services get stripped down to what we can safely put into people’s hands and what we can offer them online or virtually. Children’s story times and craft programs are being recorded and put on YouTube for children to watch from home. Teen trivia nights and other programs are being held online via Zoom. Adults are enjoying a range of craft programs, author talks, and other speakers online as well. We even have musical performances and drive in movie nights coming to our parking lots this Fall.

As we ramp up our virtual programs and services and find other ways to safely serve people, I have realized that these new or modified services may never go away because they are our best chance to connect with the “everything is online now” crowd. The added benefit of us producing virtual content is that it can be “forever” content. Thus we are essentially building a catalog of streaming programs that will continue to get “views” for years to come. Measuring our “views” is soon going to be as valuable of a statistic as in-person program attendance. 

So although I cannot wait for life to return to “normal” here in the White Oak Library District, I will be the first to admit that this pandemic has forced us to think creatively and to provide services in ways that we may not have done otherwise. In doing, so we will use these new services and formats to hopefully reach an even wider audience than we were reaching pre-pandemic. That is the silver lining.

Leave a Reply