On this week’s Princh Library Blog post we have guest writer Stephen Abram sharing his suggestions on how libraries can expand and update their collections to better accommodate the changing needs of their visitors.

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Humble suggestions

Collection development can’t stop just because public libraries may temporarily physically restricted. Indeed, our experience this year is major changes in the borrowing dynamics of what readers are borrowing. We need to plan!

I did a little collection development in my early career but that was in a specialized library (accounting, finance, HR, and consulting). You likely have local professionals doing your collection development so they are likely already on to what the next normal “OPENING DAY” collections and displays should look like when your doors fully open to the public again. If not, it is time for some leadership direction and research! There is no reason to suspect that we can’t continue to offer new books, great displays, and topical advice upon re-opening or online.

I’ve got a few ideas based on some things I’m watching on behalf of public libraries in Ontario. All of these ideas aren’t just temporary improvements but have lasting value in your public library collections. Many libraries, though not all, have some unspent funds saved during the lockdown that should be viewed as strategic opportunities.

Here’s some good stuff:

Evidence: Bread makers are sold out.

Idea: Add bread cookbooks and cover all types of bread. People will be looking to expand their repertoire from Sourdough!

Evidence: Freezers are selling out. Preserving can be done at any time and so many people will be seeking to save money with so many incomes are affected!

Idea: Look into up-to-date books that advise your readers on how to freeze, preserve, and store food.

Evidence: By the end of many months of self-isolation or stay-at-home work, people will be sick and tired of their usual go-to recipes.

Idea: Expand your cookbook collections with more variety, especially ethnic foods and quick meals. Some Millennials are cooking often for the first time. Lots of opportunity here. One big city library CEO told me that their entire collection was in circulation.

Evidence: Nurseries are mostly local businesses and open, given their perishable products and planting season. Indoor, outdoor or balcony, people are focusing on making their homes more pleasant affordably.

Idea: Gardening is one of the most popular hobbies anyway but there will be some changes. Expect that vegetable and herb gardening will be BIG like wartime Victory Gardens. For those of you with seed banks, expect to promote this but run out, depending on the timing! Don’t forget indoor herb gardening and balcony gardening too. Everyone will be looking for something creative and fun to do while having the lure of saving money. Remember that your collection is special since it is tuned to your climate zone.

Does your library have problems with printing?

Evidence: It is likely that concerts, plays, theatre and movies will be among the last venues to re-open and maybe not this year?

Idea: Promote your DVD’s that have concerts, plays, and movies. Non-fiction and documentaries too. Choose when you introduce outdoor physically distanced movie nights on your parking lots/parks/grounds. Look to license streaming video, music, and audio collections in volume.

Evidence: Home wine and beer brewing will be big. They save money and who knows when the bars and restaurants will re-open?

Idea: To be repetitive, expand these collections! And call in sommeliers and local wine-making stores for online programs.

Evidence: Our local parks will re-open eventually!

Idea: Look for books on outdoor kid’s games and activities.

Evidence: With air travel being disrupted and many people being short on cash for vacation, we can expect our parks to re-open for camping and this to be a big and popular thing to do, while continuing to practice physical distancing.

Idea: Look for books on camping, cooking over a fire, bivouac, and more.

Evidence: Every parent has exhausted their activity toolkit. Your staff have excellent affordable craft ideas.

Idea: Review your arts and crafts collections and upgrade as necessary focusing on activities that can be done at home with kids with easily available supplies (dollar stores, Michaels, etc.) Curate YouTube educational craft videos.

Evidence: With Stay-At-Home people have been doing photography a lot and posting it to social media and sharing it with friends and family. You will note that it’s largely family shots and backyard or photos from local walks. People will be striving to stretch their wings and want tips and tricks. Many libraries’ photography books are out-of-date with respect the capacity of the new digital cameras and phones.

Idea: This hobby (and career for some) will burgeon as people get more into digital photos and sharing. Now is the time to review your photography book collections and programs. Ensure that they are current and digital-focused. Just about everyone from tween to senior has a digital camera phone and video camera in the purse/pocket! Don’t neglect to collect books on videography and editing software too. Maybe now is the time to make sure your maker space is up-to-date on photo and video editing software and good printers (possibly for a fee for great paper).

Evidence: Kids have read every picture book they own multiple times!

Idea: Promote your best kid’s books. Now may be the time to reorganize the picture book collection into great topical rummage baskets: alphabet, colours, numbers, pets, vehicles, trucks, dinosaurs, princesses, space, animals, etc. Create a giant exploration space where every basket is 6-feet part (since your story area will likely go unused for a while! Use toys (like a truck for the truck books or a dinosaur for the dinosaurs books! Remember board books are for pre-readers but they still know their interest and preferences. You can pick a few toys up inexpensively at second-hand stores to label these topical baskets for the pre-reader set. Use your kid spaces for picture book discovery.

Evidence: You may ask, “What about fiction?”

Idea: Fiction will continue to be vital to public library success. That said, have a long hard review over time about the impact of fiction e-books behaviour on circulation recently in your community. Indeed, e-book readers and tablets are selling very well during the pandemic and we can probably predict a permanent re-set of the bar as some return to print and some become hybrid print/e-book users. Also, many libraries will have a backlog of pre-processed orders of new books that have arrived and sat there during the lock-down or arrive as soon as your loading docks re-open. Library members should be thrilled with a very refreshed collection of new print fiction! Time to rethink displays and discovery if your stacks remain closed.

And some difficult stuff:

Evidence: Reading patterns are changing as has been noted by libraries, publishers, and bookstores alike.

Idea: Review opportunities for where to temporarily delay collecting based on your circulation patterns.

Evidence: People have been self-isolating for quite a while. This has likely resulted in a delay for some break-ups.

Idea: Ensure that your collections are up-to-date on separation and divorce.

Evidence: Many people have encountered, sadly, the deaths of friends, family, and acquaintances.

Idea: Ensure that your legal section has good books on writing your own will and planning for your estate. Also, review your self-help books on handling grief.

Evidence: The financial issues are affecting everyone including small businesses, some desperately.

Idea: You may want to consider reviewing and updating your personal bankruptcy, financial rearrangements, and business bankruptcy collections are up-to-date for local user needs.

Evidence: I think the majority of people have suffered some income hits or know someone who has.

Idea: Any books that can be added to the collection on personal financial planning, saving money ideas, etc. would circulate! Also books on side-hustles and part time employment, etc. should be displayed.

Evidence: Many people will be on some form of subsidy, welfare, food bank, etc.

Idea: Ensure your reference desks and pamphlet racks are full of stigma-free advice and direction for you local services. Ensure that all staff are trained in offering direction and advice to resources. Ensure up-to-date links so your website or in-person staff can direct people to government services, personal and business support programs.

Evidence: No matter how great a parent you are, most parents didn’t sign up (if there ever was a sign-up list!) to have their kids at hand 24 hours a day, seven days a week and out of school with no out of the house sports, dance, music lessons, and other activities.

Idea: Be gentle, but your parenting books may be popular right now! A display for parenting school-age kids and activities idea books to keep kids engaged and happy is in order.

Displays

All of the above are worthy of a display targeted to your community’s needs. Displays are a stigma free way of highlighting difficult topics/issues, encouraging questions of staff, and showing the renewed breadth of our non-fiction collections.

Mine your partners and staff for ideas. Start or review your display strategies to align with the current environment. Public libraries get more foot traffic than nearly any site in the community. Your local partners may want to display or promote as well. This is a great opportunity.

Please note that you will likely have a lot of extra space for displays.  Maybe sitting at tables is temporarily disallowed. Maybe your meeting rooms need some enlivenment if meetings are rare or forbidden. If you, by chance, have to line people up outside six feet apart, due to occupancy restrictions, consider creating book truck displays outside in the good weather to make the lining-up experience less dreary.

Plan ahead! You and you colleagues are highly creative and talented. Your community will appreciate the effort.

We will be back next week with another interesting article from the library world!

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Stephen Abram

Stephen Abram, Principal of Lighthouse Consulting, Inc. in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, a strategic planning practice for libraries, works internationally in all sectors of librarianship and information providers. He is the past president of SLA, OLA, and CLA, has run libraries, associations and served as a strategic VP in global information vendors.

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