On this week’s Princh Library Blog post we have guest writer Stephen Abram continuing to share his thoughts on how the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has affected libraries, and how libraries can adopt to create the “new norm”. You can read the first part of the article HERE.

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Insights and ideas

Last month I explored the pandemic’s emerging effects and behavioural changes on public libraries, our members, and our communities.  This month I share a few ideas about how libraries can address the challenges that we face during the pandemic period which will likely last another 4 to 5 years.

Trust is Foremost

Public Libraries and their staff are among the most trusted institutions in society.  Some surveys put us in the top 5 along with emergency room workers and firefighters.  We are hyperlocal, service-oriented, and great at tech, and answering questions. We can be trusted to keep our members’ safe and their needs private.  And we are expert at that satisfaction key measurement – return visits.

That said, the pandemic will disrupt the relationship of our library members with the public library.  For example, we know from past experience that it can take quite a while for a public library to recover from a public bedbug infestation with initial drops of up to 20% in circulation.  Luckily, some libraries are on path to recover their circulation numbers during this exceptional year through sound and nimble strategies like digital access, holds promotion, curb-side delivery, and e-books promotion.  Of course, circulation is just a single core measurement in our 64-crayon portfolio of services.

Libraries are this: Not this:

As we adapt and create this next normal, we need to continue to promote the public library with Visible Trust.  The low-hanging fruit is signage which must be clear and positive (not generating or adding to fear) and avoid begging the question.  It helps to add a dollop of humour.

Staff should be trained and oriented to encourage library use AND re-build repeat physical/digital use and visits.  This needs to be supportive and indicative of trustworthiness as residents expand their bubbles to visit us as one of their chosen few retail-like spaces.  We need to deliver fine services in a visibly safe and caring environment.  Staff need to have a direct route and protocol for their own questions about safety and not engage in social media sharing their fears or uninformed opinions which could pollute viewpoints in our member populations.  Communication by management and Board needs to be proactive.

Framing all of your marketing and communications plans with a sensitivity to staff and community trust factors is a good start. Click To Tweet

Recovery

The top goal of our society for the foreseeable future is RECOVERY.  We have recovered before from situations with similar features though by no means as long and comprehensive as this pandemic (bedbugs, ice-storms, SARS, extreme weather, strikes, etc.) and we learned from each.  Of course, this disruption is bigger, more complex, and longer-term but that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to create better and stronger libraries with even higher impacts.  It will take a couple of years for the expected vaccines to reach herd immunity thresholds.  It will take longer for certain programs and services in the public library portfolio to recover the trust of members to congregate again.  That said, it may be a new world, but our members are the same old humans with needs, challenges, and dreams.

There are opportunities for new and innovative services to meet the emerging needs of our communities in recovery.  The recovery focus is not just economic.  It also needs to be social and behavioural.  Top of the list is to align your plans and offerings with community needs, local plans, and goals for recovery and prioritizing the library role within these strategies where the library can have the most impact alone or in partnership on our communities. A not inconsequential aspect of this is that you align with funding sources.

Solutions for Recovery

Following, I will show innovative opportunities that libraries around the world have exploited to support social and economic recovery in their communities.  Basically, there are two aspects for recovery – community recovery and public library recovery.

Community Pandemic Recovery

Examples:

  • Employment recovery
  • Business recovery (Boards of Trade / Chambers of Commerce)
  • Culture and Attractions recovery
  • Tourism recovery
  • School and Higher Education recovery

Public Library Recovery

Examples:

  • Circulation recovery
  • Reframing the technology strategy and capital investments
  • Reviewing collection balance (digital/physical) in the framework of changing needs.
  • Review our spaces and places inside and outside.
  • Re-training and developing staff in the new context and services.
  • Supporting Work from Home (WFH)
  • Supporting Learn from Home (LFH)
  • Supporting Job Finding
  • Engaging Teens and Tweens and homework, learning, and scholarship
  • Supporting Seniors
  • Offering services for wellness and social isolation.
  • Developing and supporting partnerships.
  • Reframing relationships with key allies (Town, Schools, Parks & Rec, etc.)
  • Offering entertainment services that cover for the lack of events and attractions (Reading, DVD, streaming media, programs, audiobooks, etc.)
  • Supporting parents and virtual child development (virtual story hours, etc.)
  • Etc.
Does your library have problems with printing?

WeWork-Like and WFH Programs

The pandemic brought on a slew of changes including teleconferencing, remote work, and other tech innovations.  Trends like automation, artificial intelligence, and touchless products and services are expected to shape our future workforces.  Employees will need regular support and training on platforms and technologies to meet heightened job demands, while companies need to oversee any automation or AI processes to ensure a smooth adaptation to new possibly hybrid working modes.

Last year, 2020, was heralded as the exciting start of the century’s third decade. Today, its conclusion cannot come fast enough for most businesses and entrepreneurs.  Yet the recent sweeping societal and corporate changes likely will not subside when the calendar hits 2021. In fact, these changes have altered life for the foreseeable future, and that’s not all bad for businesses.

Virtual working and coronavirus-linked workforce transformations have ushered in some massive tech innovations and opportunities.  Consequently, library leaders should keep an eye on the following trends aimed at swiftly adapting to tomorrow’s norms.  This is especially vital for communities where there is a high percentage of commuters.  Smart libraries are aligning their WFH programs and services to the new workday patterns and parenting/schooling needs.  What do people in your community need to learn and how do you scale and market it?  Simple licensing of a critical mass of online learning courses (we can’t handcraft enough of them) isn’t enough.  Teaching online learning basic skills as promoting the induvial courses at the volume we promote individual book titles is essential.  Remote workers requiring savvier back-end support and training.  In our physical spaces we need to review touchless and contactless everything.  We need to address the challenge of the peripheral.  People mostly don’t have a home set up that covers all of their needs, so we need to help beyond PC stations, BYOD and Wi-Fi with bookable scanners, printers, software, maker, and more.  This becomes to bridge for many people to learning achievement and employment success.

Outside

Safer Social Interactions

Getting Together Outside

Getting together outside, with lots of space between you, is the safest way to visit with people outside of your social group. There are lots of activities you can do, and some are safer than others.  Can you re-purpose your parking lot or outdoor spaces to be multi-purpose?

Creative agencies from around the world have envisioned how public spaces could be adapted to allow social distancing as part of the Where We Stand initiative organised by London-based David Michon, who instigated the Where We Stand project in partnership with agency Ask Us For Ideas after personally being impacted by the closure of public spaces due to coronavirus. In total 15 design teams created ideas to transform their favourite outdoor areas into safe and welcoming spaces that people can use while social distancing.

The designers tackled spaces in the UK, USA, Germany, Vietnam, Australia, Singapore and France with ideas including a “Keep Your Distance” football pitch, parabolic conversation mirrors and grassy picnic mounds.

Foreign Policy proposed colourful speaker-receivers for Singapore’s botanical gardens

“When lockdown began, I realised just how crucial my local park was to me as a place to access open, green space,” he told Dezeen. “Yet, it was almost immediately bandaged up in caution tape. Public spaces are a lifeblood to many right now and they deserve beauty and creativity – not pylons and haphazard spray paint.”

Dn&co suggest dividing up Parliament Square with organic shapes

Wkshps x Studio Pandan proposal focuses on Berlin’s Tempelhof airfield

In San Francisco, Manual suggested installing a simple series of grassy picnic mounds in an under-utilised area by the Ferry Building.

Paul Cocksedge designs social-distancing picnic blanket for life after lockdown

I find the idea of a blank slate compelling in the early stages to ensure that we continue to think with creativity and innovation at the forefront.

And, as always, we need to consider new ways to engage with and promote our portfolio of offerings.

Focus on the Whole Path Forward

Reflect on when you are overly focused on one problem.  It may be a temporary and needed step but should always be considered in the holistic viewpoint of your whole organization and community.

Inspiration Visuals

Following are visuals that – hopefully – inspire some thinking about spaces, places, partners, programs, and services.

Family Programs

Family Programs

Story Walks

Caledon has numerous trails to promote reading and the public library.

Little Free Library

Welcome to the world’s largest book-sharing movement! Join us in:

  • Building Community
  • Sparking Creativity
  • Inspiring Readers

https://littlefreelibrary.org/

Little Free Library

Farmers Markets

Farmers Markets

Christmas Markets

Outdoor Furniture

Outdoor Classrooms for Programs

Outdoor Pavilions

Chalk Programs and Marketing

Indoor Classrooms

Member Spaces

Stages and Theatres

Cool Ideas to Adapt

WFH and Shared Business Spaces

We can expect to see more use of the public library as the Third Space.  One and two are home and office.  However, for obvious reasons (kids, fridges, TVs, etc.) workers sometimes need to go somewhere to focus or meet co-workers/clients/interviewees where home is not a professional option.  For this reason, we can expect to greater stress and usage of business-like workspaces, cel-phone/smartphone/tablet friendly spaces, and the need for easy access to printing, scanning, workplace software, etc.  Many libraries provide rentable or bookable small rooms for 2-3 people with tech and wiring included.  Collections to support business needs and databases for business research also form part of the offering.  Sometimes just aligning promotion with members needs is all it takes!

Teen Areas

Let’s not forget the teens. Nearly every space that teens formerly had to get out of the house and be independent is disrupted with potential negative consequences.  Let’s be that safe space.

Signage

Here is no reason for your plexi-shields to be threatening or boring.

Tech

Borrowable technology is a library program whose time has come.  Libraries around the world are lending hotspots, laptops, tablets, and more.  Added to lending, for example, cake molds, bikes, snowshoes, fishing gear, musical instruments, and other more pandemic safe and friendly activities, and we are the source for help and joy in our communities.

Reference Services

“This is how you know that people are feeling more comfortable: We’re seeing weirder and weirder questions.”

How COVID-19 Has Transformed Reference Services for Public and Academic Libraries [Library Journal]

Dealing with the Question Business

  • Virtual Reference
  • Zoom Reference
  • Email Reference
  • Social Media Reference
  • By-appointment Reference
  • Walk-in Reference
  • Website Guides for Popular and Regular Questions

Business

If we’re not helping business and employment recovery, why not?

I took this picture in my hometown’s central city square and theatre district. It says it all!

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.

Contact via email

Stephen’s Lighthouse Blog

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