Say it again louder for those in the back: Library workers are more than the people who check out your books. Libraries are important, and this message has been expressed in Mark Smith’s recent blog post, “The importance of libraries during and after coronavirus.”
With many libraries shuttering their doors or modifying services to assist in social distancing, we have heard from directors and other library workers concerned about how to best communicate the value of their library workers if they are not currently physically public facing. We know that it is important at this time to be able to articulate to both the public and to libraries’ governing authorities what library workers are doing to benefit communities.
What are libraries doing now?
First, we want to outline four clear ways that library workers illustrate their value even with library doors closed. Be mindful to log the hours of all of the work that goes into library services; this both gives library staff a sense of accomplishment and provides an easy way to show all of the work your staff is currently doing.
Library workers are community connectors
Libraries help bring their communities together. This doesn’t stop when the physical space is temporarily not being used. Our recent blog post by Library Technology Consultant Henry Stokes, “HHH: Virtual Branch,” provides some valuable programming ideas drawn from what libraries are doing with their community while their physical locations are closed. As Henry states, “the virtual branch is still the people.” Some additional interesting examples of programming can be found on the website of the Lewisville Public Library.
Library workers help find information
The public is used to going to the library for community and government information. Whether it’s to find tax forms, census information, or mental health or shelter resources, public library workers are used to connecting their community to the resources they need. In this time of social distancing, libraries can provide information regarding many (if not most) of these services online or via telephone. Patrons may be in immediate need of finding information on requesting aid or unemployment benefits; now is the time to assist patrons in finding this information and partnering with the offices that provide this aid.
Library workers are curating information and maintaining online resources
A relatively easy way to provide information to patrons is curating information and maintaining an accurate list of online resources. Look at resources outside of traditional library resources for information related to government aid and unemployment information. Some resources related to Texas-specific services that you may want to highlight include:
- Assist small businesses with loans: Federal Disaster Assistance (includes Texas)
- Assist newly unemployed with unemployment benefits and sick leave (Texas Workforce Commission)
- Connect with your local senior population connect with the Area Councils on Aging:
- Find free meals for school children: Texas Education Association Food Map
- More information on https://txschools.gov/
- Understand sick leave and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) (PDF)
- Connect local Governments on COVID-19 preparation (International City/County Management Association)
- Provide help on working from home: Quick Steps to Prepare a Remote Work Policy
- Find local and county health services: Where Can I Find Services? Dial 211 for local resources and organizations (Texas Health and Human Services)
- Debunk misinformation: Fighting Fake News in the Pandemic (ALA Programming Librarian)
- Assist Texans seeking electronic resources: Online Resources from TSLAC
- Find best practices for remote work and other cybersecurity information: COVID-19 Preparedness for Information Technology (DIR)
These resources, and more, are included on our Texas Statewide Resources section of our COVID-19 Information and Resources for Librarians page.
Library workers make sure you still have a reading escape
Libraries are used to providing online resources, and now is the time to leverage these for the entertainment and stress release of your patrons. In addition to the e-reading and other digital services that your library usually offers, many publishers and e-resources are providing free access in this time of crisis. Make a one-stop shop for your patrons where they can easily find these resources.
Some libraries, such as the Cedar Park Public Library, are also promoting temporary online library cards for those who do not have current cards; this may be a solution worth investigating.
What can we do going forward?
Do a skill inventory
Does your library staff have special skills? Even if the skill doesn’t have anything to do with traditional library work, it may be a skill that could be useful to your community. Conduct an informal inventory of special skills that your library staff may be able to share and develop with members of the community or other library staff.
Not sure what a skills inventory looks like? Here are some example worksheets about the process:
- Skills Inventory Worksheet https://sph.uth.edu/current-students/career-services/career-websites/3-Skills%20Inventory%20Worksheet.pdf (University of Texas)
- Skills Assessment Worksheet https://ccv.edu/documents/2013/11/skills-inventory-worksheet.pdf/ (Community College of Vermont)
- Skills Inventory Worksheet https://www.brynmawr.edu/sites/default/files/SKILLS%20INVENTORY%20Worksheet.pdf (Bryn Mawr College)
Do a connection inventory
Now is the time to connect with outside, local organizations and find a way you can partner with them. What connections does your library staff have to outside organizations that can help the community? Encourage your staff to communicate what organizations they talk with, volunteer with, or have other connections with. Organizations to work with could include the Texas Workforce Commission, your local unemployment office, local schools, local animal shelters, and other government institutions.
“Show up” in the community where people weren’t expecting you
This doesn’t have to mean showing up in person! Be a virtual resource that your child’s school sends out. Partner with local businesses organizations to provide direct information assistance. Reach out to nonprofits and other organizations to see if they need their services featured on your website. Organizations that you assist in these times will be interested in partnering with you in the future.
Build the skills of your library staff
Finally, be sure that you can show your governing authorities that your library staff is working to build skills that will help serve your community in these new times. Identify potential needs in your local community, and locate training opportunities that meet these needs. Provide opportunities during the workday and incentives for completing continuing education hours. And again, be sure to hold on to those completion certificates!
What is your library staff doing?
What duties are your library staff performing during the COVID-19 crisis? Share in the comments; we’d love to hear!