Upcoming TSLAC Webinar: New TSLAC Grant Programs

On Wednesday, September 1 from 2 to 3 p.m., join TSLAC staff for a live webinar to learn about three new competitive grant opportunities for libraries made possible by emergency pandemic funding through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA):

1. Texas Supports Libraries Grant Program is designed to help communities respond directly and immediately to the pandemic as well as to related economic and community needs through equitable approaches.

2. Texas Telehealth Grant Program will award libraries with the equipment and resources needed to facilitate a telehealth project at their library facilities.

3. Texas Digital Navigators Grant Program will help libraries develop and implement a unique Digital Navigator program to help close the digital divide in their communities.

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) will begin accepting grant applications for these programs on September 3, 2021. Awarded projects will run December 2021-August 2022.

Attend this webinar to learn more about these programs and determine whether they might meet the needs of your community.

Register here

Note: As this program is primarily informational in nature, there will be no CE credit awarded for this event.

Help Your Community and Patrons Get Low-Cost Internet and Affordable Devices

Text reading Emergency Broadband Benefit FCC in the shape of a WiFi signal

The Federal Communications Commission has launched a temporary program to help families and households struggling to afford Internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) provides a discount of up to $50 per month toward broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers.

Similar to the Lifeline program, the Emergency Broadband Benefit exists to ensure that individuals with low income can fully participate in civic life by connecting them with affordable internet service and access to devices, two of the principles of digital inclusion.

How can libraries help? 

  • Help get the word out to your patrons! This is a limited time benefit, so the sooner people apply, the better. The FCC has created a free downloadable multilingual Outreach toolkit complete with fact sheets, social media posts, flyers and more than can be used to spread the word. 
  • Coordinate with partner organizations to assist in reaching out to qualifying individuals. 
  • Become familiar with the offers available to your community so you’ll be able to connect people on a moment’s notice.

Program details:

The Fine Print:

  • The program will end as soon as funds run out or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID-19 health emergency.
  • Only one monthly service discount and one device discount is allowed per household. Program rules acknowledge there may be more than one eligible household residing at the same address.

Contact:

  • For more information, the community can visit getemergencybroadband.org or call 833-511-0311. An application by mail can also be requested by calling the same number.

Additional resources:

HHH: Library Telehealth Visits Revisited

Logo for Henry's Hightech Highlights

In May 2019, I highlighted the topic of telehealth for my Henry’s High-Tech Highlights blog series. I think it’s high time we take another look. Before this year, telehealth was a fairly new technology that only a handful of folks were thinking about and exploring. With the pandemic, it’s risen to the forefront of people’s minds, becoming more relevant than ever. Suddenly we need telehealth implemented everywhere, on a massive scale, as communities, especially rural ones, are facing a worsening health crisis. Many lack local healthcare facilities to visit and the necessary Internet connectivity to make virtual doctor visits work. Libraries around the country are poised to be the perfect partners in these efforts to bring this critical need to the community, and we just happen to have a pioneer right here in Texas leading the charge. 

Today’s highlight: Telehealth at the library


The Facts

First off, why do folks need telehealth access, especially now?

  • Rural hospitals have been closing at a catastrophic rate.
  • Many people in rural areas are located far from any hospitals.
  • There’s also a lack of transportation options (no public transit) for folks to physically travel to the hospital.
  • Even when transportation is available, patients are often reluctant to travel outside of their area.
  • And most significantly, there is insufficient broadband access, a requirement for telehealth, in many residents’ homes.

Additionally, many of retirement age buy homes in rural areas to live, but when they find they need more healthcare, they end up selling their homes and returning to the cities due to the lack of access. Adding telehealth services to libraries means these seniors could receive the healthcare they need, thus allowing them to stay, age in place, and have the quality of life they desire. Libraries have the opportunity to be transformative, helping to maintain the vitality of their communities.

Why are libraries the perfect telehealth partners?

  1. It’s a place already in communities to serve people’s needs that people trust.
  2. It has friendly, helpful staff who respect privacy and are pros at teaching digital literacy skills.
  3. It often has free high speed Internet, faster than many might get at home.

I think libraries and telehealth go great together, so I decided to make another promotional poster based on ones from World War 2 to support telehealth services at libraries.

Poster depicts librarian (dressed as Rosie the Riveter) holding an ethernet cord and standing proud in front of a waving American flag. The words "Telehealth Saves Lives" are next to her. Below, the text reads: "High Speeds Meet People's Needs. See your local public library. Telehealth Services at participating locations."
The previous poster I designed is placed next to the original 1940s one that shows a Rosie the Riveter type with her husband standing proud in front of the American flag. The text below reads "I'm Proud... my husband wants me to do my part. See your U.S. Employment Service"
The original poster on the left, and my remix on the right.

I’ve created other library tech posters in a similar style if you want to check them out.


A Pioneering Pilot

Despite the great match-up of libraries and telehealth, there are very few examples in the U.S. I’m pleased to report that Texas is leading the pack in this regard. Pottsboro Area Library, a very small rural library an hour and a half north of Dallas, has a new telehealth pilot project in partnership with University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNT-HSC).

Last week, I invited Dianne Connery, former Director (now Special Projects Librarian) at Pottsboro Area Library and Jessica Rangell from UNT-HSC, to present during a monthly Zoom “TechChat” for TLA’s Innovation and Technology Round Table (ITRT) to discuss the facts I’ve outlined above and give a brief update on the pilot.

Here is a youtube recording of the 30 minute chat from 2/25/2021 if you want to watch the whole thing, but I’ve also highlighted the key points below.

During her talk, Dianne described how patrons would come into the library during the early days of the pandemic, reporting that their doctors wanted to talk to them but didn’t want them coming in for appointments for fear of contracting Covid. Unfortunately, a virtual visit wasn’t possible for these patrons since they didn’t have Internet access at home. What were these patrons supposed to do? 

Dianne had recently installed fiber at her library in order to support an innovative eSports program, so she knew the library’s Internet was up to snuff for a video-conferencing call. At first, she ended up setting up telehealth visits for these patrons in her office so they could have their doctors’ appointments. This was just a stopgap solution, however. A clear need was being articulated by the community, and Dianne wanted to do more to address the issue.

Investigating further, Dianne discovered a grant available from the Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) – South Central Region (SCR). She applied and was awarded funding to pay for lighting (more on that later), health collection development, hardware (webcam, microphone, computer), signage, and marketing materials so that she could set up an innovative telehealth pilot with her partners at UNT-HSC.

Photograph that shows desktop computer in a designated telehealth room with good lighting.
A closer look at Pottsboro’s telehealth setup. Note the lighting.

How It Works

Step 1: If someone in the community has the need for telehealth, they make a call directly to the Health Science Center to make the reservation. This protects their privacy (library staff never knows the names, only the times of the appointments). This is especially important in a small town where everyone may know each other. 

Step 2: Once the reservation is made, the patient can come into the library to a special designated room that is staffed by healthcare professionals. Besides the registration, the payment process and screening for Covid is all handled through the Health Science Center.

Promotional banner that reads "Check out telehealth at your local library!" and a bullet point list of : "Call to schedule your appointment, Complete your pre-visit check-in electronically, Show up at the library for your appointment" Below that is the contact info for UNT-HSC.
Promotional banner for Pottsboro Area Library and UNT-HSC’s telehealth program

Here are a few more points made by the presenters:

  • Offering this kind of telehealth service is scalable to any size library.
  • A library doesn’t need to have a separate dedicated room.
  • It does, however, require good Internet like from a fiber connection.
  • It also requires good lighting to ensure clinicians can diagnose their patrons with the same visual information they would have in person. 
  • As mentioned in my intro, many are now abuzz about telehealth due to the pandemic’s highlighting of the ever-widening digital divide. Legislators and funding providers are eager to support projects like this and bring telehealth to communities. So keep on the look-out; funding is coming!

A Community of Practice

With her pilot, Dianne says she’s building the plane as she’s flying it, just winging it really. This is such new terrain we’re all in. We will all benefit from the lessons learned from her attempt, but let’s get the conversation going and develop a community of practice.

Some questions to explore:

  • What kind of training do library staff need to set up and implement telehealth services?
  • How should libraries advertise this new service and reach people where they are? 
  • How should libraries implement good workflows to deal with infection control issues?
  • What are considerations not thought of?
  • What more can be done in this space? For example, could it be made mobile to visit patients where they are  – such as in nursing homes and assisted living facilities?

Are you considering telehealth at your library, or are you already doing it? Want to learn more? Please email me with subject line “Telehealth” if you have stories, ideas, or resources to share – or if you just want to stay in the loop with regard to library telehealth in Texas.

Resources to Recognize and Counter COVID-19 Vaccine Mis/Disinformation

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.

Texas Information Sources:

General information:

Evaluating information on the web: resources and tutorials

Yes, We’re Open: Talking with the Nueces County Keach Family Library

Nueces County Keach Family Library staff on the front steps of the library.

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 continuing 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 third installment of the series, we interviewed Ida Gonzalez-Garza , Director of the Nueces County Keach Family Library in Robstown, Texas.

In Part 1 of this series, we interviewed Marisol Vidales, Director of the Hector P. Garcia Memorial Library in Mercedes. In Part 2, we spoke with Michael Hardrick, director of the Forest Hill Public Library.

In what ways is your library open to the public?

Our librarians and staff are providing virtual online services to our patrons via Facebook Video (Live). We also created Facebook groups for our Summer Reading Program and Family Place families to provide LIVE videos and important information, as well as the Nueces County Public Libraries YouTube page. Our staff has been providing our patrons an online calendar of events for all our virtual programming. Our services and activities include:

  1. Virtual arts and crafts activities
  2. Virtual Storytime
  3. Kahoot!TM online trivia
  4. Virtual Sensory Storytime
  5. “Goodnight” Storytime
  6. Virtual escape room
  7. Nintendo Switch Mario Kart tournaments
  8. Mr. Kippy’s Storytime
  9. Science and Discover online program
  10. Bookmark contests in July and August 
  11. Curbside services – books and audiovisual materials for patrons and free books giveaway 
  12. Conducting inventories at two libraries and weeding library collections
  13. Online book display– Patrons can place these books on hold for curbside delivery 
  14. Book A Librarian – Virtually. Ask a Librarian for help finding books, movies, audiovisual materials; basic technology questions; research guidance for business and finance; legal resources; and more
  15. Nueces County Public Libraries Monthly Newsletter
  16. Free Wi-Fi at both county libraries, accessible from the libraries’ parking lot
  17. Promoting Nueces County Online “Art Gallery”. Patrons are submitting artwork and promote on our library website to the community.
  18. Summer Reading Program virtual: We use READsquared (online reading program) and have great success with our numbers. During this time our librarians’ and staff held virtual events, missions on READsquared, writing prompts on READsquared they submitted to our librarians to request codes, and Zoom programs such as Austin Reptile Show (Registration Required) and held live videos on our Facebook Group with Magician John O’Bryant.
  19. We are promoting our ONLINE database resources. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic we decided to utilize our book and audio-visual materials budget to subscribe to new online database resources. Our county judge is knowledgeable in the services that libraries are providing and the technology we have to offer and wanted us to subscribe to more online databases, making them available to our patrons.
  20. Sesame Street – Ebooks
  21. World Book online (distance learning) Pre-School to High School databases (FY2020)
  22. Hoopla Digital Resources
  23. RB DIGITAL / Hoonuit, Universal Class and Transparent Language (FY2020)
  24. Libby Overdrive
  25. SimplyE
  26. KHAN Academy – 1,800 video tutorials, math, science, history, finance, and test prep.
  27. Ebsco Flipster Online Magazine Subscription
  28. Proquest Ancestry (FY 2020)
  29. READsquared  – Reading program to promote children, teen, and adult programming.
  30. TexShare Databases
Flier advertising that curbside services are available now.

How have your library’s policies and procedures changed?

We did NOT have a pandemic policy in place, so we created one and then revised twice with changes that we did not expect. But I have been fortunate that we have supportive county governing authority and our emergency management department has also been very supportive during this pandemic. Of course, I have a very young staff who have been adaptive to the changes and are trying to cope with the strain of the challenges in the workplace.

How have you adapted your library space?

The first thing that we did was request plexiglass for our circulation desks. We didn’t have any problems getting this request filled for our libraries. I have also submitted a capital outlay request for permanent glass to be installed at the main branch and small branch areas for aesthetic pleasing purposes, but I know that this is going to be an expensive request. Due to time and funding, I chose to ask for this separately for next year’s budget. The plexiglass is a little flimsy, and it may secure enough to last the whole year. We received distance markers for the floor and our public works department has provided signage for the patrons to see that it is mandatory to wear face masks on premises. We have also moved our furniture and we will NOT be providing seating for patrons to sit and lounge in Phase I-III. We will NOT allow patrons to search for books in the stacks either. We will have all these areas inaccessible to the patrons.  We are using our multi-purpose room to quarantine our books. Our library staff enters the library after picking up the books from the book drop boxes, and they immediately quarantine the materials. We have also removed all our chairs for our seating areas so that when we open to the general public, they do not stay. We do not have any idea when this is going to happen. We still have a high rate of COVID-19 cases being reported and many deaths. We will be ready when this happens. We keep getting messages from patrons who want to know when we are going to open, and we tell them that we don’t know.

What services are you providing to vulnerable populations?

Our libraries are in the rural northwest and south, so we don’t have any homeless population at this time. Our service population is small, but we still communicate with all our school districts and offer our services to them. We have been trying to partner with our county community senior services department that delivers homebound meals to the elderly population, but it has been challenging. We are providing services to rural school districts that do not have the technology for their students. Our county judge had purchased iPads for the libraries to use while providing STEM technology training, and she asked us to allow the students in these rural areas to check them out the latter part of the spring semester. We may have to loan these out at the beginning of the school year to the schools that do not have any iPads.

How are you helping your staff during this time?

Nueces County is COVID-19 testing all of our staff for free, and they are also providing counseling. Our human resources department is very supportive, and they have sent us emails telling us to contact them if anyone needs help coping or referrals. The county is providing incentives to keep up morale, and try to keep a low-stress environment. 

Not all of our staff can work from home because of their job duties, and, since we are still technically open and trying to fill book requests, some of our staff has to stay in the library and work. The Keach Family Library librarians are working from home one or two days out of the week. All our other staff stays here at the library working.

Describe your decision-making process.

Our service population is 31,530, but the rural counties that do not have libraries may receive a free library card with restrictions. Our governing authority has never questioned our decision to allow people from other counties to use our libraries without assessing a service fee. The county judge and commissioners decided to close our libraries. We stayed working at the libraries, conducting inventory of all our materials at both libraries. Our libraries have been closed since March when the pandemic started. We are providing curbside services and virtual Storytime and arts and crafts for patrons. At the end of June, I contacted the emergency management department and asked if we could re-open for enhanced services and they said, “NO.” The numbers at that time were barely going up. At this time, we may be closing in a few weeks and going back to Phase 1 due to a HUGE increase in positive COVID-19 cases in Nueces County. I am very fortunate to have great support from our Commissioners Court administration and our County Judge.

How did you communicate with your governing authority?

I have a great communication with our County Judge and Commissioners, and they listen to our concerns. We receive directives regarding closures and re-opening stages from the Commissioners Court. We also have an emergency management department that is under the directive of the county judge, offering guidance to our department.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Nueces County Keach Family library Summer Reading winners sitting outside in front of yard signs that say “a library champion lives here.”

Library Technology for Contactless Service

[Interested in learning more about how libraries are ensuring patrons still get their needs met through library technology in the age of COVID-19? Sign up for an interactive discussion facilitated by TSLAC on August 18, 2-3:30 p.m. CDT: “Texas Technology Chat – Library Technology for Contactless Service” (1.5 hr CE credit). Register here.]

Originally, before the pandemic, new contactless technologies such as self-service kiosks and patron print management tools were developed for use in libraries for two main reasons:

  1. Make staff more efficient at their job
  2. Provide extra convenience for patrons

Depending on a library’s size or situation, implementing these features could be seen as merely perks, even unnecessary frills. They were often just nice add-ons, ways to make the library feel more modern and state-of-the-art.

It wasn’t too hard to level criticism at these particular contactless services back then. They could be considered barriers to connection between the library and the community it served. Using them meant patrons had little to no interaction with staff, thought to be the heart of the library. The concern was patrons might lose that personal touch that should go with library services, and the library itself would become more remote and distant. Soulless, automated machines would serve as the face of the library, replacing the crucial community-building work of friendly, caring, and human staff. Beyond the thinking in this regard, there was the added expense and staff training sometimes needed to implement this new technology. And for many, it was seen as an unnecessary reliance on new technology to perform library services that had traditionally been done by hand (and quite well, thank you) for as long as libraries have been around. 


And then the pandemic happened.


We’re seeing now that there is suddenly a new purpose to these contactless technologies: safety! No longer are they nice perks; they’re necessary and potentially life-saving.

One can now add the following reasons to implement:

  1. Prevent close social interaction with staff
  2. Prevent patrons from waiting in line or being forced to gather in small spaces with other patrons
  3. Allow patrons to minimize time in the library as much as possible

Efficiency (reason # 1) is even more important now if libraries are experiencing staff loss or volunteers being let go. With brand new safety measures and pandemic-related services to be performed, staff have less time to handle the basic services of circulation, public access computer management, printing, etc. To list just a few of the added tasks: clean surfaces repeatedly, fill curbside orders, present virtual programs, assist patrons phoning in to make appointments to come into the building, etc., etc.

Photo of library staff behind reference desk wearing face masks.
Photo details

One big change is there often needs to be less public access computers due to spacing requirements, ensuring patrons stay six feet apart. Having less computers means more demand, so a library needs a new system in place, if there wasn’t one already, that sets reservations and enforces time limits  –or needs to include more portable computers like laptops and tablets so patrons can use these devices throughout the space to stay socially distant from one another. 

To sum up: self-service used to mean efficiency and convenience. Now self-service equals safety

Decades ago, with the emergence of computers and networks, libraries had a significant phase of automation to convert their card catalogs to OPACs and ILSs. Now we are entering the Second Age of Automation. It’s not only the catalogs, but every library service that needs to become automated to make it contactless and safe.

To help guide you through this new technological age we’re living in now, Digital Inclusion Consultant Cindy Fisher and I (with the help of our new Continuing Education Support Specialist Tomas Mendez —thanks, Tomas!) have put together a list of products for contactless services.

Icon for Google Doc

Google Doc Link : Library Tech for Contactless Service

We organized them by the following service areas:

  • Circulation
  • Curbside
  • Returns
  • Document management (print, scan, fax, email)
  • Fund transference
  • Public computer use
  • Reference, patron assistance, information/research help
  • Third party virtual programming software (by subject)
  • General building safety

Here are a few of the innovative highlights from the grid that may not have occurred to some:

  • To make curbside more efficient for staff and convenient for patrons, deploy 24/7 smart lockers outside of the library building for patrons to retrieve their holds.
  • If a staff member can’t position themselves next to a patron’s computer nor physically take control of their mouse and keyboard to assist them, screen mirroring software can be employed, even on the staff member’s personal tablet held at least six feet away.
  • For a scenario with the least amount of contact possible within the building, patrons can bring their own device to the library and use an app to not only scan the desired materials for check-out themselves, but even automatically desensitize the RFID labels/detection strips via the same app before exiting. 
  • With the complete loss of in-house programming, employ third-party, resource-rich  online software to help conduct them virtually. This could be for social gaming, crafting, coding, to name a few. There are also services to provide live one-on-one job search coaching and homework tutoring for your patrons at their homes.

If you’d like to discuss the topic of library tech for contactless service further, please join our free interactive discussion webinar on August 18, 2-3:30 p.m. (all library types and sizes welcome!). We hope to see you there!

COVID-19 & Tech: VR/AR

On Fridays I plan to spotlight an emerging technology that has been pushed by the COVID-19 pandemic into more mainstream use, sometimes in ways that may seem surreal.


Despite the lockdowns, quarantines, and closures, the technologies of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) (previously highlighted in my HHH blog post series) have not been placed on the backburner during the pandemic.

Three areas where we use VR/AR more are to help us with our shopping, to encourage social distancing (while alleviating us of boredom), and to attend live concerts socially.


RETAIL & AR

When brick-and-mortar retail locations were closed and completely inaccessible, it meant browsing and shopping had to be done online. Retailers who deployed AR to assist shoppers benefitted from a 19% spike in customer engagement with customers becoming 90% more likely to buy when engaging with AR versus those that didn’t.  (Source: Vertebrae). 

Why this sudden love for AR? There are a few reasons. Shoppers need to make more considerations before making purchases, and as they can’t go to the store and actually check out the merchandise themselves in person, they are more amenable to things like 3D & AR to answer their questions and give them the info and confidence they need to buy. It helps that most are using their mobile devices to shop, rather than their workplace computers as they would have before, as AR is designed for mobile; for example, you move your smartphone camera around and see products superimposed within your home – something impossible to do with your computer at work.  When you’re already stuck at home while shopping, you might as well directly use your immediate living space to help you make the decision. And retailers have begun to notice. Recently, Etsy launched an AR app for iOS for the first time, allowing shoppers to preview potential art on the walls of their home.

Photo of a smartphone  pointing at a blank wall; the screen shows a work of art from Etsy appearing as if on the wall

SOCIAL DISTANCING & AR

Existing AR games like the massively popular Pokemon Go pivoted completely as soon as the pandemic arrived in the U.S. They changed their game mechanics to support and encourage social distancing. For example, more monsters were programmed to show up near the player’s house, competitions that used to require being near other players could now be played remotely, and anything in the game that pushed the player to travel out in the world and engage with other places (normally one of the mainstays of the game) was removed.  

Promotional image of "Pokémon Go Fest 2020" showing a photo of someone's backyard and cartoon Pokémon characters appearing. I have added a bunch of silly speech bubbles to make the charcaters ay, "Wash your hands!", "Avoid other humans", "Please don't leave your backyard!" and "Stay safe!"

As a piece of entertainment, Pokemon Go is designed as a diversion for its players, a way of gamifying the real world. As part of the fun, it encouraged players to interact with the environments around them in new ways (spotting, battling, and collecting monsters). So it’s interesting that the game adapted to the real world circumstances that prohibited people from interacting with their spaces in the same way as before. In fact, they actively performed the positive role of encouraging the same environmental interactions towards safety.


LIVE CONCERTS & VR

As a result of COVID-19, any kind of location-based entertainment had to be shuttered, and it’s taking time for many to reopen for attendees to visit again.  Live concerts are one thing that’s been able to continue in a new form via Virtual Reality.

One popular social VR venue, The Wave, recently announced partnerships with Warner Music Group and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation to produce concerts with their rosters of talent—a clear sign the music industry has embraced this technology. Virtual, live-streamed entertainment have actually become a new source of income for musicians and their labels. It’s cheap for the audience to attend, and the artist stands to make a lot more money than the traditional, in-person shows.

Animation showing a violinist in a motion capture suit performing live as a virtual avatar performs for a audience during a VR concert.

Besides the three examples above, AR/VR technology can help us in other ways during this time. As XR researcher and author Helen Papagiannis recently described:

  • It brings the outside world in (for example, take a virtual vacation tour of a famous landmark or distant location).
  • It helps us transform our immediate surroundings into totally new spaces that help us with learning, work and entertainment. You can use AR to make your living room function as your office.
  • It helps people feel less isolated in their homes – either with actual people via social chat and meeting programs, or by interacting with virtual humans.
  • It can educate and inform about the pandemic, helping us understand how it works and its impact. We’ve seen VR/AR projects that help people visualize the effects of climate change and air pollution (link forthcoming). Imagine experiences that show us how the virus spread and was contained, or the impact of nationwide lockdowns on the environment, for example.

THE FUTURE:

Here are three things to look forward to with regard to AR/VR:

Photo showing a man wearing Facebook's proof-of-concept AR glasses that resemble sunglasses.

1) We’re not done yet with innovations in this area. Just last week, Facebook Reality Labs (FRL) showed off a proof-of-concept pair of AR goggles that look like a compact sunglasses. No more big, blocky boxes strapped to the front of our faces. The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

Animation of a man pointing to his sunglasses while singing. The lyrics "The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades" are superimposed.

2) If you’re getting tired of working at home, staring at your flat computer screen for hours on end, and attending all those work meetings on Zoom, you can look forward to VR providing you your collaborative workplace some day soon. Products like Rumii give us a chance to ditch our webcams and escape our distracting home environments. The idea is we’ll feel like we’re immersively inhabiting an office space with our co-workers. Plus, it will facilitate social distance and safety if necessary.

3) And lastly, coming soon, XR Libraries has used their recent experience of running an Emergency Workers POP-UP Childcare Center to develop socially distanced protocols for cleaning and use of XR. These new safety guidelines will allow libraries to continue providing XR (Extended Reality) experiences for their patrons.

Image showing an senior citizen using VR to view the pyramids. She's wearing a face mask and gloves.

Yes, We’re Open: Talking with the Forest Hill Public Library

Michael Hardrick

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.

Exterior of Forest Hill Public Library

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.

Yes, We’re Open: Talking with the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Memorial Library

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 first installment of the series, we interviewed Marisol Vidales at the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Memorial Library in Mercedes, TX.

Marisol Vidales, woman smiling
Marisol Vidales

In what ways is your library open to the public?

We are currently open at 50% capacity and providing the majority of our services which include circulation of materials, scanning, copying, faxing, and computer use. The library also runs its own café so we have opened that as well. The only two things we have been unable to provide is in person programming and meeting room use. We don’t want to encourage gatherings and so we have held those services back. We also have continued to offer curbside pickup for our café and circulation for those patrons who prefer that. We know cases are rising in the state and we can understand our patrons’ concern with coming into the library.

How have your library’s policies and procedures changed?

The main change is in how we handle material. When we receive items through the mail or book drop we handle everything with gloves. We set aside the mail and newspapers for 24 hours before making them available to the public. We also set aside books and DVD’s for 72 hours before shelving the items and of course prior to shelving them we sanitize the outside of the material. Even within the library we ask patrons to use the indoor book drop when returning items. Due to items not being checked in immediately we have also become more generous with our checkout limit and we take the patron’s word that they returned the items. We also enacted automatic renewals so patrons have even more time with our materials and less of a possibility of incurring fines. It is a very difficult time financially for the majority of the world and we don’t want to add to that burden.

How have you adapted your library space?

Library building
Dr. Hector P. Garcia Memorial Library

To ensure we are providing the recommended 6-foot distance we have removed a lot of our furniture or placed caution tape on the areas that are not available. The few fabric couches we have we moved to our meeting room because we find those more difficult to sanitize. Essentially, our newly remodeled meeting room has become our storage area for all our excess furniture. We also have less computers available for the public due to the 6-foot guideline. We adapted by using our online catalogs as computers as well and providing laptops for check out within the library. We have also marked our book stacks with entrance and exit signs. While we encourage patrons to ask us for the items they want we have not blocked access to the stacks. We also removed all toys, games, and colors from our Children’s Department.

What services are you providing to vulnerable populations?

The curbside service is one of the services we have available for everyone but we highly encourage vulnerable populations to use it. We find the items for the patron, check them out over the phone, and place them in the trunk of their car when they arrive so it is a contactless experience. We also recommend that vulnerable populations use our audio and electronic books through RB Digital so they don’t even have to leave their home. The Hidalgo County Library System was recently given $75,000 by the county so we can continue to expand the collection which has become increasingly important in a time like this. As far as services for children we have been holding a virtual story and craft time through Facebook Live. We have story time twice a week and the craft activity once a week. We want to be able to provide something fun and distracting for them and to keep the connection to the library going even when they can’t visit in person. For those patrons who do not have access to the internet at home we are offering our public computers with no time limits. We realize that some patrons may be job searching, filing for unemployment, or applying for assistance so we don’t want to time anyone. We also offer anyone who does not have a physical address an e-card so they can use our computers. We have made our wi-fi available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in our library parking lot.  I wish we were able to offer more such as wi-fi hot spots, bookmobiles, senior hours, removing all fines, etc.  but either due to budget constraints or policy we have been unable to offer that. I strongly advocate that whatever you have in your power to do to help vulnerable populations at this time whether psychically or financially don’t hesitate. Our communities need the help of libraries more than ever before.  

How are you helping your staff during reopening?

Mary Jane Hernandez and Isabel Mendoza

With the staff the main thing has been providing protection. Prior to reopening I looked into providing acrylic shields or sneeze guards for every circulation desk. Unfortunately, the cost was over $3,000 so the initial purchase was not approved. Having developed an excellent relationship with my Public Works Department we brainstormed on ways to make the shields in-house. Thankfully, we were able to make some out of clear vinyl and wood frames. We now have them in every area where the staff are dealing with the public and we were able to have them in place by the time we opened which was May 4. I also wanted staff to be comfortable in dealing with patrons out on the floor so we invested in face shields for everyone to provide that extra protection. We also have gloves, disposable masks, and hand sanitizer available for all the staff. Plus, every morning we are doing temperature checks with a touchless thermometer. All these precautions help keep us safe and lower the risk.

As far as mental and emotional support we have been meeting every Friday to address any concerns and any updates with regards to COVID-19. Our first meeting was prior to us opening and we implemented remote desktop on all our public computers so staff can assist patrons with computer questions while complying to social distancing. We also did a lot of role playing that day regarding patrons who may refuse to wear a mask or not comply with social distance. As things evolve we make sure to discuss it and have a clear message we want to portray.

Describe your decision-making process. How do you communicate with your governing authority?

I work for a fairly small municipality. We have a population of about 16,500. With that being said it is fairly easy to speak directly with our City Manager. Often, I propose changes or ask questions simply by email or text messages, which is great because it’s a faster response. If something I am proposing is more complicated then I do have to provide documentation such as memos with statistics to substantiate my request. Obviously, certain things are not within the city manager’s control such as direct changes to our policy manual or anything over $5,000 in cost. In those instances, I do run everything by my City Manager first to get his approval and suggestions. If it’s dealing with policy, it does have to go by my Library Board and then City Commission. If it’s funding then it has to go to City Commission.

Research Shows COVID-19 Virus Undetectable on Five Highly Circulated Library Materials After Three Days

A recent scientific study from the Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) Project has found that the COVID-19 Virus was undetectable on the following items after three days:

  • Hardback book cover (buckram cloth)
  • Softback book cover
  • Plain paper pages inside a closed book
  • Plastic book covering (biaxially oriented polyester film)
  • DVD case

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.  

Read the full press release or download the full report.

For more information, visit the REALM project page or sign up to receive updates as they happen.