At the collectionHQ Coffee Break in November, we caught up with Will Bailey, Technical Services Manager at the Hartford Public Library (CT). Will shared how his library has adapted to serve customers during the pandemic, and his thoughts on the future of library collections.
Hi Will, thank you for joining us today. Since March 2020, libraries have been required to constantly review and adapt services to meet the needs of their communities. How has your library responded to building closures imposed due to Covid-19?
In March, we shut our doors and began working from home to make sure that we had a significant amount of ebooks and eresources to help our community. Our leadership team decided it would be best to work off site until we could develop different phases of plans that we could go in and out of depending on whatever the case load would be. At this time, we are in phase 2 and have introduced curbside pickup with limited public access to computers, which we continue to monitor on a weekly basis against the Hartford city guidelines.
To support Readers’ Advisory remotely, we have introduced “grab bags” to go since our patrons can’t browse. We curate different grab bags using a reference list which details what patrons are interested in so that we can target their individual needs. We also set up a Chat service to enable us to conduct interviews remotely and safely to learn about how we can better serve each patron.
Libraries have reported record numbers of new members since March. How are you making your library systems more accessible to attract new patrons?
In September, we did a whole redesign of our library catalog to make things easier to find. We integrated libguides into our catalog so that our list of resources wasn’t as overwhelming as it would be with just a block of text. We are also partnering with our local schools to turn on a tool called “Clever” which will enable K-12 students to access our digital collections directly through their student portal, without logging in twice.
In addition, we are in the process of creating federated searches to pull all of our resources into one location, rather than multiple eresource databases. In short, we want to bring everything into one place so that our patrons don’t have to visit lots of different sites.
Meanwhile, we are continually working to develop and improve our web presence to attract new users.
Developing a patron-driven collection is evidently at the heart of the Hartford Public Library’s mission. How will collectionHQ and ESP help your library to achieve this goal in our new normal?
We are currently reviewing how these solutions can support our project to automate unfilled holds reports and patron requests. During the pandemic, we have found that holds were exceeding the number of titles that were checked in due to patrons not visiting the library, and so we have been using the ESP score to decide whether to meet unfilled holds requests through an inter-library loan or a purchase request. We have continued to use collectionHQ and ESP during branch closures to audit gaps in the collection and to get a more realistic view of what our community wants. When we open again for browsing, I am confident that we will have better view of what is on the shelf and be able to provide a better customer experience thanks to these efforts with collectionHQ and ESP.
Digital collections have offered immeasurable value to communities over this past year. Have you utilized any additional Baker & Taylor digital solutions to support your library service during this time?
We subscribe to Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 platform and have been setting up Community Share in partnership with local schools to make it easier for students to access the public library’s eresources and continue independent reading at home.
Pop Up Libraries are used currently in three locations and we are planning to add a fourth to our bookmobile so that the library’s digital collection can be made available wherever the bookmobile travels to in the city. In a city of 120,000 residents, this initiative provides a fantastic way for the library to reach out to more community members.
Looking towards the future, what do you believe will be the long-term impact of Covid-19 on the library world as we know it?
I think we are going to see continued high use of ebooks and eresources. At the library, we bought 900 new titles in March and already each title has received at least one use.
The pandemic has forced us to break down barriers and find new ways of making the library collection available to access at any time. We will maintain some of the services that have proven extremely popular with our patrons, such as the curbside pick-up, to make the library easier to reach for all members of the community.