As the COVID-19 vaccine inches closer to widespread distribution, help your patrons and community find reputable and reliable information about the vaccine. If library workers stick to government and respected health organization resources, we should feel confident that we can provide high quality information to the public.
As a side note, you may want to provide the disclaimer that the library provides general information for educational purposes and that everyone’s individual situation is different so they should consult a healthcare provider for a specific medical concern.
Here are a few resources along with some helpful tutorials in spotting fake news and evaluating information found on the web.
The Texas State Library and Archives Commission is excited to announce that applications for a third year to apply for Library Technology Academy are now open! This opportunity is a training and grant program for libraries serving populations of 30,000 or less.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, access to technology and the internet is vital to living a robust and connected life and libraries have always been at the center of ensuring community connection. But many libraries struggle with keeping technology updated, communicating its value to stakeholders, and ensuring technology purchases meet unique community needs. This is where Library Technology Academy comes in!
What is the Library Technology Academy training grant?
Taught by nationally renowned library technologist, Carson Block, participants will go through an 8-week online training program, at the end of which they’ll devise a technology project that meets their community’s unique needs. Each library will then receive up to $10,000 in the form of a reimbursement grant to implement their proposed project.
Recent projects have included:
Implementing a self-service checkout station
Developing a WiFi hotspot lending program
Creating a digital memory lab
Engaging teens with gaming
Implementing a mobile classroom
Engaging the ESL community with translation technology
What will I learn at Library Technology Academy? Participants will:
Learn how to consider their community’s needs when purchasing technology
Learn how to be strategic in maintaining and sustaining library technology using tried and true technology practices, templates and procedures;
Learn how to craft data-informed grant project proposals;
Connect with other small and rural libraries in Texas to learn and share successes and challenges
Testimonials from past participants:
“The Library Technology Academy was instrumental in guiding my limited knowledge of technology to a higher level. Although I was meeting online with many technologically savvy librarians and their colleagues, I never felt inadequate. From a small, rural library, one-person view, I knew that this class would give the small community in which I work the opportunity to come into the 21st century. Thank you both for this invaluable opportunity, and I continue to grow in knowledge and understanding because of this.” Marianne McGinnis, Director of the Charlotte Public Library, Charlotte, Texas (pop. 3,965)
“The Library Technology Academy has been a game changer for our Library! Like most libraries we have always tried to look to the future when planning for the best technology to meet the needs of our community but have hesitated to try anything to new. My favorite part about the tech academy is that we were counseled by “experts” in both technology and library services. This program really taught us to dig deep and think about solutions and technology possibilities that we would have been too scared to consider before. Having colleagues to bounce ideas off was such a fun part of the program.” — Andria Heiges, Director of Nancy Carol Roberts Memorial Library, Brenham, Texas (pop. 16,951).
How to Apply: Applications are open from August 31 – September 28, 2020. For more information, including requirements and eligibility, please refer to the Library Technology Academy webpage! Or take a virtual tour of the resources by watching this video.
When does it start?
The online training will run from mid-October – early December 2020. It will consist of the following:
Intensive LIVE introductory training:
Monday, October 19th: 10am – 4pm and Friday, October 23, 10am – 1pm
Weekly LIVE one-hour trainings during the following weeks: October 26 through December 14. The day and time of the training will be decided by participant consensus after attendees meet for the introductory training.
If you need assistance with the application process or have further questions, please contact Cindy Fisher, Digital Inclusion Consultant and Library Technology Academy program manager, at email@example.com
This project is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to TSLAC under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act.
Texans need WiFi access and we need your help building an authoritative map of free WiFi locations in Texas!
If your library offers freely accessible WiFi that individuals can connect to outside as well as inside of the building, we encourage you to fill out the below form. The information you provide will populate a map that will be shared publicly with Texans needing free WiFi access.
Fill out this short form to add your organization to the map: https://arcg.is/0TOPvu0 *If you have multiple branches for your library location, please fill out the form for each branch. *Please provide as much specific information about each individual location as possible, including library hours and places where WiFi is easily reachable. Fill out the form as if you were someone who had never visited your library before. *Help us avoid duplicate submissions by checking to see if your location has already been added. View the live map here.
The interactive tool provides Texans with the following information for each WiFi hotspot:
Instructions on how to access the WiFi network map
WiFi hours of operation
Additional nearby services
Options to view the map in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, as well as a mobile-friendly version
The form will take less than 5 minutes to complete. We ask that you fill out the form promptly so that we can get the information to those who need it. Together, we can help connect Texans to the internet during a highly sensitive time.
This is a joint project of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Texas Legal Services Center / TexasLawHelp.com, and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. For more information or for questions, please email the project team at TexasWifiMap@tlsc1.org. If you have library-specific questions, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Curious how other Texas libraries are providing technology assistance these days? Join Henry Stokes and Cindy Fisher for a facilitated interactive discussion on using technology to provide contactless library service in the age of COVID-19? Register here.
The urgency of providing computer help in the aftermath of the pandemic has meant that many library staff are finding creative solutions that ensure their own safety while also providing essential connectivity for citizens to do vital activities like filing for unemployment, booking telemedicine appointments, taking online tests, or maintaining social connections with friends or family.
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Peter Sime, Library Services Supervisor of People at the City of Grand Prairie Public Libraries in Grand Prairie, Texas. Peter and his team developed a way to provide one-on-one technology assistance to customers using the library’s public computers while also ensuring that library staff are at a safe social distance. And, because we knew other libraries have similar questions, with the help of his communications office, he created a video demonstrating just how this service works. You’ll find that embedded below.
Peter and I also spoke about the realities of offering in-person technology help in the age of Covid-19, and how the pandemic helped them shift some of their pre-existing practices to ensure a more user-centered approach.
Describe how patrons currently access the public computers? How does this differ pre-pandemic life?
The City of Grand Prairie has three libraries and at each location we have regulated computer access by limiting the number of computers that can be used at a time. We’ve done this by taking away existing furniture to ensure six feet of distance. In some cases, we provided more than six feet of distance because there may be multiple people sharing the same computer. We’ve recently added sneeze guards in between the computers and that has actually allowed us to add a few more computers back into the rotation.
As we were planning to reopen, it was really important to us to make things as normal as possible because the last thing people need right now is more change. We wanted people to know it’s still their library and it still works the same way. They still use the same reservation system to reserve computers. We do have a 45 minute time limit on the computers, as we did before, but there isn’t a big waiting list for computers because most people have been very efficient with their time.
We also added a way for customers to sign up for a computer using a future reservation one day ahead of time. This is to accommodate customers that need to have access to a computer for taking a test; these reservations are for two hours. The future reservations also ensure that people don’t have to stand around waiting for a computer to become available while in close proximity to others. We have limited the number of future reservations available to ensure that there are still computers available for walk-in customers. We are really busy from 12pm (when we first open) until about 3:00 p.m. A lot of the things we’ve learned and processes we’ve put into place, we want to keep after the pandemic subsides. Sometimes we’ve asked ourselves, “Why didn’t we do this before?”
You all are using specific software to help assist computer users. Tell me a little bit about it. How does this help you keep a safe distance?
One of our biggest challenges upon allowing people back into the library to use the computers was how we help people. Pre-pandemic, our staff had been great with helping people on the computers, talking through what they need and assisting them side-by-side, but that’s obviously not doable now.
Our IT department uses TeamViewer to work on library staff computers remotely so we asked them if it could be configured on the public computers so library staff could assist customers remotely, and they did. They installed it on one staff computer at the main branch and another one at our Warmack branch, as well as our public computers.
The host computer is the library staff computer and this enables staff to access any of the public computers that the software is also installed on. In order for a customer to get help, they click on the TeamViewer icon on the public computer’s desktop, and it generates a code. In order for the staff member to access their computer, the patron has to give them permission and the code. Once the customer provides the code, we can then log into their computer and basically see the screen the customer is working on. We can move the mouse, we can type things in for them, and we can show them how to do things.
All of our computers have a sign on top of the monitor advertising a live helpline, so the customer dials the number on their cell phone, and the library staff member is available to help both over the phone and through viewing their computer screen.
Though the length of time varies, the average time that a customer needs help is between 8-10 minutes though we have helped people for upwards of 30 or 40 minutes.
What is the cost of the software?
The library pays for a specific license for each staff computer about $500 per license for one PC. However, there are set-ups where one license would enable three people to help at the same time. We didn’t go this route at the time because we didn’t have three people at main branch that we could dedicate to doing this at the same time as I needed staff on the floor to monitor and clean.
Which staff are trained to use the software and how difficult is it to use? It’s a very intuitive software. We have multiple people trained at our Warmack branch, so the service rotates. At Main, we have one person who mainly provides assistance. They are actually working from home using a laptop to remote into the PC at the library. It’s been a great way to provide work for those at home.
If the helpline is busy, the calls automatically roll over to the reference desk. We have a floating staff person who helps clean the computers when customers leave, and this person will also provide assistance if they can from six feet away or they will let the customer know that if they can hang on for a few minutes, the helpline will be free again and they can try calling back. We can extend their time on the computer to ensure that person gets the help they need. Additionally, the library staff at Warmack branch could also log in to the main branch and assist customers if we had a large number of people needing help all at the same time.
How have patrons received this service and what kinds of assistance have you been providing? It has been a really well received service; when people use it, they love it. We’re able to provide direct hands-on instruction, but no one’s in danger of getting sick.
One of the hurdles that we had to overcome early on was convincing folks that there was a real person on the other end of the phone, not an automated robot or a personal assistant like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. When some of our regular customers figured out that it was a library staff person they recognized, they used it more frequently.
We’ve been helping customers with so many different things like downloading and uploading resumes; many drivers license renewals and navigating the DMV website to find driving records, and even some job application websites. For those who are not computer familiar, these job application websites can be really daunting. It really helps to have someone walking you through it.
What have you learned throughout the process that would be helpful for other library staff interested in implementing this.
They’re kind of simple things, but we put the number to call on top of the monitor right at eye level. And I did not anticipate that we’d have to sell people on the service and to explain that the help being provided is a real person from the library. If you’re going to implement this, think about ways to address that ahead of time. We phrased the card at the top of the monitor with the following: “For direct library staff assistance, contact this number”. We think it helps customers really understand this is not a machine, it’s a staff person.
Big thanks to Peter Sime and the computer assistance team at City of Grand Prairie Public Libraries for sharing their expertise.
Do you have a technology assistance tip or service that you’d like to share with other Texas libraries? If so, contact Cindy Fisher, Digital Inclusion Consultant, at email@example.com or share your comments below.
We have received many questions regarding how libraries throughout the state of Texas are providing services to the public. To help answer these questions, we are starting a blog post series titled Yes, We’re Open, which will interview library directors and workers throughout the state to provide snapshots in library response. In this second installment of the series, we interviewed Michael Hardrick at the Forest Hill Public Library in Forest Hill, Texas.
In what ways is your library open to the public?
We have been doing Dial-in and Drive-by (curbside) since June 1, 2020. Patrons can either call or go online to request materials. They are also able to pick up craft kits to do projects with their children at home. We are planning on allowing patrons into the library by appointment only starting July 6, 2020. They will be able to use the computers, meet tutors, fax, print, and make copies. Unfortunately, at this time patrons still will not be able to browse the collection and building access will be limited to an hour a day. We also added several digital resources for patrons to use and provide virtual programming.
How have your library’s policies and procedures changed?
Our policies have and continue to change as we navigate through this pandemic. Patrons and staff will be required to wear a mask while in the library. Patrons must request items they want to check out either online or by calling the library. There will be no browsing of library collection and no lounging in the library. We built in 15 minutes between each computer session to allow staff time to clean computer stations.
How have you adapted your library space?
We have removed all toys from the children’s area, designated six computers for public use, and currently use our meeting room to quarantine returned materials for 72 hours.
What services are you providing to vulnerable populations? For example, those who are currently experiencing homelessness, are homebound, or do not have access to the internet, technology or have limited digital literacy skills.
We currently provide Wi-Fi hotspots for patrons to checkout. These hotspots are checked out for two weeks. We also created a COVID-19 resource page for patrons to find reliable and accurate information. The library staff and the board continue to look for ways to help our patrons who have been hit the most during the pandemic.
How are you helping your staff during reopening? For example, how is the employee mental health and physical well safety being addressed?
We have staff meetings every morning to discuss what’s going on around us. What the agenda for the day is, plus time to vent. Our staff is very involved in the decision making–determining what will help them feel comfortable to open back up to the public. We are taking small steps and reopening in phases so that everyone is at ease in the way we serve our patrons.
Describe your decision-making process. How did you communicate with your governing authority?
My first thought is always what’s best for our community, how will this affect our patrons and what are the issues I can actually control and do something about. When the pandemic first hit, I was closely watching the news, listening to my peers at other libraries and looking at what the city council was planning along with the county. I had regular meetings with my staff to discuss options and then I presented a plan to our board members.
Director Michael Hardrick has worked in libraries for 18 years and just entered his second year as library director.
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Plastic book covering (biaxially oriented polyester film)
The Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) Project is designed to generate scientific information to support the handling of core museum, library, and archival materials as these institutions begin to resume operations and reopen to the public. The first phase of the research is focusing on commonly found and frequently handled materials, especially in U.S. public libraries.
Communities all over Texas have experienced increased demand for WiFi connectivity due to normal connection locations, such as schools, libraries, and places of work, being closed or operating on limited hours in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some public libraries have been lending mobile WiFi hotspots for a few years, while others are considering a new program to meet the digital inclusion needs of their community.
To assist libraries in the process, we here at TSLAC thought it would be helpful to provide two kinds of resources:
Mobile WiFi Hotspot Info from Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) This resource was compiled by us here at TSLAC to make it easier to find vetted vendors of WiFi hotspots made possible through the purchasing power of the State. If you’ve never purchased anything through a DIR contract, you’re in luck. We have an upcoming webinar on June 25th on how the process works. Register here.
Do you have tips or resources on mobile WiFi hotspot lending that you’d like to share? Add your comments below or contact Cindy Fisher at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add them to the resource above.
Interested in learning more about expanding digital access to your community and the library’s technology capacity? Sign up for Friday’s webinar: Towards Digital Equity and Technology Access in Texas Libraries. Register here.
Library parking lots were access points for WiFi even before social distancing requirements due to COVID-19 made them essential connection points for internet access. But with many libraries closed or operating on limited hours, boosting your library’s WiFi signal into your parking lot can mean the difference between a patron being able to apply for unemploymentt or not. Let’s take a look at some relatively easy things you can do to expand access.
How Much Speed Do People Need?
First, it’s useful to know just how much bandwidth (or the amount of data passing through network cables) is needed for specific types of activities and tools. Three different types of activities generally comprise how we work online: downloading, uploading, and streaming.
Streaming is a type of data transfer that isn’t stored locally anywhere on your device; instead you just listen or view it as it streams continuously from another source. Streaming only uses as much bandwidth as is needed at the time; think of it more like a marathon — a slow pace (bandwidth consumption) but over a longer period of time, which can add up to a lot of data use overall.
Downloading transfers data from one place to another, usually permanently saving a copy on your device. Depending on your internet speed, this typically takes up more bandwidth over a shorter period of time; think of it more like a sprint than a marathon.
Uploading is just transferring something you have locally to another data source. Everything from email attachments, uploading PDFs to school classroom platforms, posting pictures to social media, or sharing your own webcam in a video chat requires uploading data.
The chart below shows the average estimated amount of bandwidth needed for each of these activities.
Things like email or simple web-browsing are normally low bandwidth, but even during browsing you might be searching websites that have image-heavy pages or come across auto-play videos which will increase your bandwidth needs. Activites like streaming videos or web-conferencing consistently require higher bandwidth. Additionally, when there are groups of people multitasking between lots of different bandwidth intensive activities, each person will start to notice that their overall speed decreases. That’s why it’s important to have high enough broadband speeds from which your WiFi can assist users in your parking lot.
How To Strengthen Your Signal
The first step to strengthening your signal is to figure out how strong it is in the first place. Take a smartphone, tablet, or laptop and connect it to your library’s WiFi network. Then, go to various parts of your library’s parking lot or outdoor areas where you are expecting people to use the network and run an internet speedtest. Keep in mind social distancing policies according to your city or county guidelines when deciding where you’ll test.
An internet speedtest will tell you how much bandwidth you are currently providing to your community — and it’s helpful to know both download AND upload speeds as previously noted that to fully participate in online activities we use both. Here are two reputable sources for speedtests:
Based on your capacity and your library’s unique needs, follow the step below to boost your library’s WiFi signal.
Step 1: Contact your Internet Service Provider and determine the maximum Mbps your building receives under your current contract or agreement. During this crisis, many ISPs will temporarily offer free speed upgrades, waive overages, or offer other free promotions or services. Ask if anything is available to your library.
Step 2: If no additional funds can be spent:
Take one of your library’s access points and move it close to a window nearest to your parking lot. The closer your access point is to where people will be using it, the better the signal.
Step 2: If additional funds can be spent (for example, you have received a grant or donation): Ensure your current equipment does not reduce your speed.
For example, your ISP contract may be for 140 Mbps but if your modem’s maximum rate is 100 Mbps you are losing speed. In this case you should use the first option below.
Step 3: Determine what equipment you need to bring your network to the parking lot or outdoor area. Three options:
Easiest solution: Replace your modem and router with upgraded models. If possible, choose a simultaneous dual-band or tri-band router which supports 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Ensure the devices work with your ISP. Daisy chain your old router to the new router and place it by a window facing the parking lot.
Second easiest: Purchase a new wireless extender or multiple new wireless routers, either indoor or outdoor. An extender simply extends the reach of your wireless network. If possible, choose a simultaneous dual-band or tri-band device which supports 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Ensure the device works with your ISP. Install it near a window facing the parking lot or outdoors.
A little more legwork: Purchase a new wireless repeater, either indoor or outdoor. This device essentially creates a clone of your original network re-broadcasted to a second location and involves more complex setup. If possible, choose a dual-band or dual-radio device. Ensure the device works with your ISP. Install it near a window facing the parking lot or outdoors.
Reach out to your city or county IT department, a trusted volunteer, or even put out a call on social media for assistance and expertise. Generosity abounds when there are people in need.
Additionally, if you do not have access to local IT support and are located in a rural area, the Fort Worth-based Information Technology Disaster Resource Center is providing technology assistance and connectivity to rural and underserved communities. As a library staff member, simply email them at projectConnect@itdrc.org to see if they can assist you. Their services are free of charge.
Curious to know more about broadband and WiFI networks? Enroll in our free online You Can Do I.T curriculum that explains these concepts in further detail.
On Friday, May 8th from 10-11 am CST, join Bethany Wilson, TSLAC Grants Administrator, and Erica McCormick, TSLAC Program Coordinator, to learn about the TSLAC CARES grant program for libraries in response to the COVID-19 emergency. Register for the webinar here.
The TSLAC CARES Grant Program funds community needs identified by Texas libraries in areas of digital access and inclusion to include programs, training, and tools necessary to increase community access to vital digital technologies and services. Additionally, funds may be utilized for library initiatives that support prevention, preparation, and response to the COVID-19 emergency.
This reimbursement grant program will fund operating expenditures such as library supplies and materials, technology, furniture, and contractual services. All grant expenses must be designed to respond directly to the COVID-19 emergency.
The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) will begin accepting grant applications on May 8, 2020. Public and academic libraries in Texas who have identified community needs arising from or highlighted by the COVID-19 emergency are encouraged to apply.
During this time, it is extremely important that Texas library workers connect with their neighboring colleagues. To address this immediate need, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission is hosting a series of online discussions with other libraries in your region that will enable Texas library workers to share concerns and resources with one another. The hosts of this discussion, TSLAC’s Continuing Education and Consulting team, will take a trauma-informed approach, helping to ensure that library workers are taking care of themselves as well as responding to the needs they see in their community.
These calls are open to library workers of all levels. Please note, these calls will not be recorded but collaborative notes will be shared afterward with all registrants, including those who were unable to attend. This document will be accessible in the registration confirmation email.