It’s National Library Week, friends! The theme this year is Connect with Your Library and, with that in mind, today I am sharing the speech I gave at our Library Legislative Breakfast a week ago. Our gathering was virtual (sadly, again) but the spirit of librarians and legislators and library supporters came through in a big way. I hope you enjoy my take on being a librarian during the pandemic and how we can make libraries relevant and successful going forward!
It was almost exactly 2 years ago that my library, along with most others in the network, across the state, across the country, closed. At that time, we thought it would be just for the weekend, that the library would be deep cleaned and we would re-open again on Monday. How naïve were we back then? Because that weekend turned into weeks and then months. I can distinctly remember changing the message on the library phone, saying that we were closed indefinitely, and then standing at the circulation desk and crying because closing the library went against everything I believed in.
I worked alone in those days, the entire staff furloughed except for me. Sure, there were zoom meetings and virtual trainings and conference calls, but when I was in the library, I was alone. And I was constantly thinking how I had no idea what I was doing, completely overwhelmed by rules that changed daily or even hourly, and wondering how to make a library relevant when I couldn’t open the doors.
Before long, though, I realized that all I needed to do was start paying attention to what my colleagues were doing. Because, librarians being librarians, we started to get creative, and we started sharing our ideas with each other. We (and when I say we I mean the collective we, not just my library) pushed Overdrive usage through social media channels and email blasts. This clearly worked, as the SAILS Overdrive collection saw a 30% increase in checkouts during 2020. Picture books alone had an increase of over 600%! And this increase was seen across all formats, from nonfiction to videos to magazines.
Despite this increased usage, SAILS saw an overall decrease in its average waiting time for getting items into the hands of patrons. In December 2019 the average waiting period was 55 days but by the spring of 2020, at the height of the pandemic, it was down to 34 days. This decrease is largely attributable to grants funded through the 9506 account to support eContent for libraries. This grant continues to keep our waiting period for items low, even today.
Taking a cue from restaurants and businesses, we started offering curbside pick-up for library materials. We did this for specific books that people requested, we also put together grab bags of mysteries or historical fiction or biographies and more. All of this was extremely successful: between March 18, 2020 and July 6, 2020 (the date libraries were allowed to have walk in traffic again) area libraries checked out 61,584 physical items (as in, not e-resources) despite the fact that patrons weren’t allowed to walk through the doors.
In addition to this, we began offering online library card registrations so that everyone could access online resources when they could not visit the library. We waived fines. We offered reference services remotely and live virtual programming and even recorded programming. We expanded Wi-Fi access to patrons outside the building. We set up outdoor spaces for socially distanced programs. We distributed craft supplies and STEAM kits. We quarantined materials and rearranged furniture and installed sanitizing stations.
And eventually, we reopened. Some of us as early as summer 2020 and some not until later but eventually we all had patrons flowing through our doors again. Just as I cried when I closed the library down, I cried again when the library opened back up. I’m emotional, what can I say? And now, while we are still muddling our way through this pandemic but staying open, our Overdrive usage continues to be about 25% higher than it was pre-pandemic. And our overall borrowing activity is up, coming in at 59% higher in the first 6 months of FY22 than the first 6 months of FY21.
This gladdens my heart because, it seems to me, the pandemic taught people that libraries are as relevant as ever. That libraries are an integral part of any community and that the services we provide are indeed essential. And perhaps, best of all, that Libraries bring people together, even when we have to stay apart.
Beautiful, Carole! Personally… my library saved my sanity during the lock down. Without it, I am not sure I would be the same today. A huge thanks to all the librarians… every single day! XO
I’m so thankful my library is so close (less than 5 minutes from my home!). I used the curb side pick up constantly. Definitely a huge round of applause and thanks to my library and libraries across the nation!
HURRAY for libraries! What a lovely speech, Carole. (Like many others, my library got me through the “lockdown” portion of the pandemic . . . with curbside pickup and then careful Covid protocols when they opened back up. XO
An excellent speech reflecting ingenuity and a desire to serve all your constituents. Unfortunately, my library suffered water damage during the time they were completely closed and nobody was there to address it immediately so it became a big loss. Because it’s a smaller branch it’s just coming back online.
I am so grateful for our local library during Covid. I was able to preorder books to pick up and I learned how to borrow books for my Kindle. I appreciate my library efforts for keeping us reading.
Thank you, Carole, and librarians everywhere! I’ve said it each time I sent in a donation to my library since March 2020, but I’ll say it here, too: I would not have kept my sanity through this pandemic were it not for my library! I am so thankful for people like you who know the importance of books in good times and bad, and I am especially appreciative of the technological advancements that have made even more resources available to us when we couldn’t be in the building.
A lovely speech, Carole. I have been a library patron and volunteer all my life, so the pandemic was just a continuation of my love affair with libraries and books. I am so grateful every day that I live in a country that still allows me to read books of my choosing, even if it does appear that some want to burn and ban books again. Will we never learn? Thank you for your service to your community!
Your post this morning was very interesting to me as here in California our libraries closed as well. Both pre and post Covid I have loved using Overdrive app to download books onto my IPad. I can make the font larger if necessary and I just find it super convenient so the impact of our libraries being closed really didn’t affect me so much. That being said, I have tried teaching my neighbors how to use Overdrive and for some reason many of them find it baffling. Most of them are retired and are not all that computer literate but even so, they seem to be challenged by it. Have you found using Overdrive to be a challenge for your patrons?
Happy National Library Week to you and library staff everywhere! That is a wonderful speech with some surprising and gratifying statistics. I’m shocked but gladdened that OD picture book checkouts increased by so much, and I love all the things libraries did to make resources more accessible when everything else (including food) was less accessible. Thanks to all of you everywhere. My libraries saved me during the first two years of the pandemic and continue to do so now.
I love my local library. At the start of the pandemic it was one of my last stops. I was there first thing in the morning the last day they were open to stock up on books for myself and my kids. Having that stack of books (and a couple videos) helped until they were able to do curbside pickup (it was months in our area).
In a recent move, getting my new card was one of my highest priorities.
Helen Mathey-Horn says
Yea for libraries and librarians!
I think between 2020 -2021 I went to my local library just once to get a book (probably a book club book) and I think I renewed my library card that day. I have been using Overdrive more. In 2022, my local library closed for renovations (recently opening a small temporary spot in the mall). I’ve been going to the one a town over since getting my taxes done there in February and taking out Agatha of Little Neon the same day. I went back last week and got a few more books and plan to keep visiting that one as I now know my way around a little.
My library was one of the few bright spots during those long months of lockdown … I loved how easy it was to borrow online and my library even made it easy to renew my card in summer 2020 – all virtually. Now I’m loving being back in the building, and how the shift to online borrowing has made getting books in paper even easier (I do love a paper book sometimes!) Libraries ROCK for sure!!
Yes, yes, yes! I have always loved libraries but it was so good to know that they not only made it through but rose above and beyond. I also cried the day I was able to walk into my library again, want to cry just remembering that day. And I am sure to let those beautiful folks at my local library how much I appreciate them. I hope we don’t forget the work they did for us.