One year on: Libraries supporting communities through Covid-19

One year ago, libraries across the world were forced to close their doors to stop the spread of a new Coronavirus. One year on and Covid-19 continues to impact the daily lives of librarians and their communities. The library’s response to the greatest challenge humankind has faced for generations has emphasized its position as a pillar of the community.

Let’s reflect on what we have learned about libraries this past year.


Libraries adapt

As soon as doors closed, librarians found creative ways to continue to promote literacy, support education and engage communities. Virtual storytimes streamed live have maintained contact with young families and offered a welcome reprieve for busy parents and carers juggling work from home with home-schooling. According to an article from the Chicago Tribune, online book clubs, yoga classes and computer tutorials have enabled adults of all ages to stay connected. Supporting this virtual connection, libraries like the Marion County Public Library, WV, added mobile wi-fi hotspots to create equitable internet access for all. One year on, and Library Journal reports that libraries are finding ways to overcome “Zoom fatigue” by offering “take and make kits” available from the library to be used in virtual sessions. And this kind of virtual programming is expected to stick around in libraries long after the pandemic, having proven an effective way to reach community members.

Following strict measures, librarians have also adopted innovative techniques to get physical books into the hands of patrons. In an interview with collectionHQ, William Bailey from the Hartford Public Library, CT reported that “grab bags” have supported Readers Advisory remotely and that curbside services have helped the library to attract new users.

Libraries have worked closely with schools to provide reading material to students. From delivering books to children to support summer reading – read this example from the McArthur Public Library – to participating in programs like Community Share from Baker & Taylor which offers K-12 students and schools access  to extended digital content from the public library.


Librarians are heroes!

Throughout the pandemic, librarians have proven that their skills extend far beyond books and information. A survey conducted by the Carnegie Trust UK found that almost 1 in 5 (18%) staff who responded were redeployed during lockdown to support community outreach services such as phone lines and food distribution. Libraries also became involved in the effort to protect healthcare workers by providing PPE. American Libraries Magazine describes the use of 3D printers in libraries across the U.S. and Canada. Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, Gateshead Libraries produced 7,500 visors in 8 weeks!

In Australia, librarians from the Yarra Plenty Regional Library called every library member just to check in, as reported in this article from The Guardian. A lifeline for community members during a period of uncertainty and isolation.

And as the impact of the pandemic continues to affect people on so many levels, the Sno-Isle Libraries, WA, introduced a series of webinars to offer advice to community members on coping with the pressures of the pandemic and libraries like the King County Public Library (KCPL) in Washington are offering programs to help those impacted financially by the pandemic to find support.


“Can you hear me?”

“You’re on mute”. Sounds familiar, right? That’s because we have moved to video conferencing in droves since the pandemic started to stay connected with friends, family and colleagues. According to The Guardian, Zoom was downloaded a record 62 million times over a 10 day period in March 2020. Video conferencing has facilitated the plethora of virtual programs offered by libraries and enabled librarians to meet with co-workers face-to-face.

Social media has also provided more ways for libraries to reach their communities during closures. Who can forget this fabulous video from the Nashville Public Library to promote curbside, garnering over 160k views? And we should all take a moment to appreciate the much-applauded Orkney Libraries social media channel for keeping followers informed and entertained throughout the pandemic with hilarious posts like this one:

Image from Facebook, Orkney Library & Archive


Other technologies that have adapted to support libraries throughout the pandemic include collectionHQ and ESP. By introducing new branch closure functionality, each tool considers periods of closure to provide librarians with usage analysis and predictions to deliver the right titles in the right quantities – supporting resourceful spending, space planning to meet social distancing measures, and community engagement.

Communities need libraries – more than ever!

While libraries continue to grapple with the impact of the pandemic, one thing remains certain: Communities need libraries.  The past year has only reinforced this fact as we have witnessed library usage soar. A report from the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) reported that two libraries signed up 600 new library members in April 2020. And in the United Kingdom, a report from the Carnegie Trust found that 1 in 3 people engaged with a library during lockdown. Then there’s digital circulation which has skyrocketed since March 2020, with an article from Publisher’s Weekly reporting a 58% increase in downloads of Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 digital platform at the Broward County Library in Florida.

It is clear that libraries have provided a pillar of support to their communities during this period of great tragedy and uncertainty. We are so grateful to have them and look forward to the day when we can come together again in these special spaces.

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