The importance of libraries during and after coronavirus

This week we held a webinar to reach out to the statewide library community regarding how they are coping with the Covid-19 crisis. I want to thank Katherine Adelberg, Manager of Consulting and Continuing Education and her team in Library Development and Networking – Cindy Fisher, Naomi DiTullio, Henry Stokes, Kyla Hunt, and Laura Tadena – for their outstanding work making that session a success. At one point, we had near the capacity of 1,000 attendees on the webinar. Assistant State Librarian Gloria Meraz and I discussed suggestions to manage through the current crisis and Katherine, Laura, and Cindy provided further information on resources the LDN team is gathering for Texas libraries.

The session concluded with a lengthy question and answer period. I hope we answered some of the questions that librarians had, but I know that many questions were left unanswered. We look forward to answering those as time goes on. The Library Development and Networking Team have announced a series of similar webinars targeted to specific regions in the state.

Many of the questions asked in the call confirmed that Texas librarians are dealing with a very heavy load. They are trying to serve their communities and patrons while also holding their staffs and their own lives together during a very trying time. And I heard an understandable level of fear about what the future holds both for the duration of this crisis and also once it is over.

One question often asked of us is, how do we strike a balance between keeping ourselves and our staffs safe while trying to serve the public?

Safety of library staff and the public they serve is of key importance. TSLAC cannot recommend libraries close, though many are. If your jurisdiction has decided to keep its library open, we urge library managers to take whatever measures they can to protect their staff and patrons. Many libraries have gone to wiping down returned books, others are experimenting with curbside pickup. Encouraging as much remote access as possible is also an obvious strategy for minimizing in-person visits as well as for patrons of libraries that are closed. Online interactive story hours are rising to become a possibility as an alternative for traditional Summer Reading Programs.

Another question we hear in many different ways is, how do we remain relevant and essential, especially as many libraries are now closed?

There are many ways to remain relevant and essential. Libraries have a vital role to play in their communities as a trusted source of information, as community anchors, and as gateways to online access and community connectivity. Libraries are also have an unusually high level of public trust as an information source (See Libraries 2016 from the Pew Research Center). These roles are all much more important in the current crisis. But some libraries are learning to scramble to provide services in new ways. Libraries are exploring partnerships with community organizations to help people connect to information sources, and even devices. Cindy Fisher mentioned the National Cristina Foundation, which helps refurbish and redistribute laptops).

Beyond that, now more than ever, we need to restate, through stories and other effective messaging, the roles that libraries play now and as we emerge from this crisis. Funding for all public services is going to be very competitive, and library leaders are going to need to articulate the importance of libraries to society as a mission-critical asset for disaster management and recovery.

We learned during Hurricane Harvey why libraries are considered essential social infrastructure by the Federal Emergency Management Administration. The Coronavirus epidemic is teaching us a new lesson: that it is imperative that we accelerate our movement to a knowledge-based economy that can operate remotely via high-speed broadband connections. Libraries are uniquely situated to achieve these goals by supporting workforce development, economic sustainability, remote access to resources, and broadband access and deployment.

One very practical thing that librarians can do right now is to study the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the two-trillion-dollar stimulus bill passed by Congress last week. The bill contains over $377 billion in aid to small business, funds that will run through the Small Business Administration and can be of huge value to local communities. Libraries can be a source of information for their communities in how to access these funds and should explore partnerships with the Chamber of Commerce, Workforce Solutions, and other economic development organizations to help move those funds to their communities. Also, the CARES Act sets aside $50 million for library technology programs for projects such as device lending, wifi hotspots, and library broadband access. We will be watching closely to see how those funds can be used in Texas. I am including some citations below to sources of information on the CARES Act to get you started.

Here’s wishing safety, good health, and strength to all Texas library workers and patrons. TSLAC, and especially our LDN team, is committed to helping provide whatever support we can to allow you to serve your communities during this time of crisis. We look forward to continuing to be in touch and to provide assistance with resources and messaging during and after the crisis.

Links:

Covid-19 Statewide Discussions with Texas Library Staffs, https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ldn/regionalcheckins

Pew Research Center, “Libraries 2016,” https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2016/09/09/libraries-2016/

National Cristina Foundation, https://www.cristina.org/
Sources of information on the CARES Act:

U.S. Department of Treasury, ”CARES Act,” https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/top-priorities/cares-act

Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, “Guide to the CARES Act,” https://www.sbc.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/guide-to-the-cares-act

National Public Radio, “What’s Inside the Senate’s $2 Trillion Coronavirus Aid Package,” https://www.npr.org/2020/03/26/821457551/whats-inside-the-senate-s-2-trillion-coronavirus-aid-package

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