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.”

Virtual Storytime Resources

We have received many questions regarding best practices when conducting virtual storytimes. While we cannot provide legal advice, we have curated a few virtual storytime resources for libraries’ ease of access.

Getting Started with Virtual Storytimes (WebJunction): An archived webinar presented by Renee Grassi, Youth Services Manager, Dakota County Library (MN)

Jbrary: Storytime Online Resources: Created by Lindsey Krabbenhoft and Dana Horrocks, two children’s librarians, this site features YouTube  playlists and a compilation of online storytime resources.

Online StoryTime & Coronavirus (Programming Librarian): This post from the Programming Librarian was posted by ALA’s Public Program’s Office. This should not be taken as legal advice, but may offer one perspective.

Public Libraries Accreditation and Statistics: This page from the Texas State Library will offer up to date information on accreditation and statistics.

School Library Journal’s COVID-19 Publisher Information Directory: This resource outlines permissions granted during COVID-19 by publisher; please check dates of availability in the listing, as they are updated periodically.

Virtual Storytime and Copyright: Resources: A blog post from the Texas State Library on copyright resources regarding virtual storytime.

Virtual Storytime Resources Guide (Association for LIbrary Services to Children): This guide was developed by the Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy (CLEL), the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), and others.

Program Statistics for the Texas Public Libraries Annual Report

Definition of Library Program: A program is any planned event which introduces the group attending to any of the activities or which directly provides information to participants. Programs may cover use of the library, library services, or library tours. Programs may also provide cultural, recreational, or educational information, often designed to meet a specific social need. Examples of these types of programs include film showings, lectures, story hours, literacy, English as a second language, citizenship classes, and book discussions.
Counting Programs and Attendance: Live virtual programming that meets the definition of programs can be reported in total number of library programs, number of children’s programs, number of young adult programs and number of adult programs; as well as related total. For attendance, report unique or peak views.  
If you have other questions about how or what to report, contact State Data Coordinator Valicia Greenwood at

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.

Resources for a library’s physical space during COVID-19

Libraries throughout the state of Texas provide invaluable services to their patrons both in and out of their buildings through analog and virtual means. Many libraries in Texas are currently going through the process of reopening their physical locations following COVID-19 related closures. As we have received many questions regarding reopening strategies, we wanted to take a moment to share the following resources that may be helpful when planning or continuing the process of reopening your library’s physical location.

Texas State Library and Archives Commission Reopening Libraries: Resource Guide Created in May 2020, this guide provides a series of questions to consider with the library’s governing authority when considering reopening the library’s physical space.

Library reopening plans: early June A compilation of Texas library responses to the Texas State Library regarding reopening plans in June 2020. Libraries are identified by population size.

Reopening Under COVID-19: A Space Planning Approach (Public Library Association) A space planning guide published by the Public Library Association complete with specific idea and considerations when reopening the library’s physical space. The guide was written by David Vinjamuri and Joe Huberty.

To continue sharing updates from libraries, we are starting a blog post series titled Yes We’re Open, which will include interviews with library directors and workers throughout the state to provide snapshots of library response. We will begin this blog post series soon, so stay tuned!

We feel your pain: From The Director’s Report

The following post is from State Librarian Mark Smith’s blog, The Director’s Report.

It is a hard time to be library worker.

When much of society went home to shelter in place in mid-March, most library staff did the same. By late March, most Texas libraries were closed. TSLAC closed its public reading rooms on Tuesday, March 17.

Since then, libraries have struggled with multiple challenges in their valiant efforts to serve the public. Many instituted curbside pick-ups, others ramped up their online offerings, while others boosted their wifi signals, even taking wifi into the communities or onto vehicles. Some libraries circulated devices or wifi hotspots and many offered virtual story hours, summer reading programs, and other online programming.

The public have used these services fully, especially remote access to online services while they too are home, often with children who they are trying to keep entertained and tracking to reading and learning.

These services have proven the value of the library as an essential service, even when closed to walk-in patrons. But this effort has taken its toll on library workers. Library directors and their staffs had to pivot literally overnight to new ways of providing services under emergency conditions. For many, the demand increased dramatically. Those who remained open, or in some way interacting with the public, had to scramble to find the PPE necessary to keep staff and the public safe.

On April 27, Governor Abbott declared that libraries and museums could open at 25 percent capacity. He emphasized that his guidance would be permissive for city and county libraries but required for state libraries. That order began the process of many libraries returning to some on-site services. That movement has left many libraries with dilemmas regarding how far to push face coverings. Librarians in some locations face a choice of hostility from customers who feel face coverings limit their individual liberties and legitimate worries about keeping staff and the public safe from the virus.

On May 4, TSLAC began accepting researchers in the Archives reading room at the downtown Austin Lorenzo De Zavala Building and at the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty. TSLAC is the only library operated by the state that has opened to visitors and throughout May and June staff have served a succession of researchers in the reading room. TSLAC strongly encourages – but cannot require – the use of face coverings by patrons. To-date, all researchers coming to the De Zavala building have been willing to wear masks and observe our safety and distancing protocols as a matter of mutual consideration and respect between the public and our staff.

Even as library staffs continue to cope through the crisis, the next hurdle looms: budget reductions. We fully expect that the economic impact of the virus on cities, counties, and the state will be huge. TSLAC, along with all other agencies, has been asked to make a five percent reduction to the current biennium with further reductions all but certain for the future. Being as essential to Texans – as libraries are in both good and difficult times – should ensure that they are the last cut, but we all know that it doesn’t work out that way. Assistant State Librarian Gloria Meraz is currently at work on a document that will provide strategies for library directors and managers facing the looming specter of funding reductions.

TSLAC feels the pain of local library managers and workers who have valiantly and selflessly served their communities throughout the Coronavirus epidemic. We are struggling with the same challenges that you all are, both in terms of maintaining public service while also preparing ourselves for inevitable budget cuts.

It is a challenging time to be in public service. But we will get through this together and we will survive. I am confident that while we may take more than our share of the impact of societal crises and funding reductions, the public has an enduring need for what libraries offer: a stable and beloved social institution, open to all on equal terms, providing authoritative access to life-saving, life-affirming information.

Please let me know how the Texas State Library and Archives Commission can help your library as we navigate together through these difficult times.

Resources for libraries:

Library Developments Blog:

COVID-19 Information and Resources for Library Workers:

Resources for records managers:

The Texas Record Blog:

General resources:

TSLAC Plan for Services during the COVID-19 Health Situation:

COVID-19 & Tech: Wearables

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.

A bevy of wearables are being developed to help curb the effects of the disease. Here are a few examples and their intended uses:

To support social distancing

Collage of various safety devices that help enforce social distancing.

In many places, social distancing guidelines must be followed or COVID-19 will spread more quickly. Companies are releasing safety devices, usually worn around the wrist like a bracelet, that alert the wearer when another person comes within six feet, usually with a vibration or buzzing.

To conduct contract tracing in the workplace

Some of the devices have more robust features and come with a whole suite for an organization to deploy among their staff. They not only buzz employees to support social distancing, they maintain a record of those interactions. They also enable employees to self-report when symptoms develop. This allows HR to quickly and efficiently set up any necessary quarantines.

Furthermore, these wearables connect to special software, a contract tracing dashboard, that allows employers to locate and support those at risk and protect the whole workforce.

To emit UVC light to destroy pathogens

Here’s a wearable that fights back. A collar is being developed that emits UVC light, destroying the virus around a person before they can breathe it in.

To continuously measure vital signs to predict and track disease

Researchers at Northwestern University and Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago are developing a flexible skin-mounted device that sits at one’s throat to continuously measure vital signs to catch the disease and monitor its course. These are being specifically designed for frontline healthcare workers, the elderly, and other higher risk individuals.

All of the above are new devices… but what about the wearables people might already own, such as smartwatches?

It looks likely that smartwatches will be making a big come-back.

I wrote about persistent recognition systems last year for my ‘Henry’s High-Tech Highlights’ series. The pairing of that technology with wearables is poised to have a powerful impact on our personal and public health. When you have sensors on you that measure you all the time – and they are connected to artificial intelligence and Big Data, there’s an opportunity to tie decision-making to your own individual metrics and this results in personalized medicine. It means we will have an all new and far more effective way to predict and treat health issues early.

A wearable like a smartwatch allows for constant tracking at the personalized level to determine the actual baselines for individuals, rather than having to compare to an average or standard. Take heart rate, for example. A new study out of Stanford University is working on employing wearable devices to help curb the spread of the viral COVID-19. Noticing that elevated heartrates have been measured from those about to contract the COVID-19 disease, the Stanford team began focusing on ways to harness smartwatches and other wearables to figure out how to detect the disease before symptoms even occur (or never occur, as is the case with those who are asymptomatic).

They’ve begun training their algorithms to notice the unusual, but tell-tale, signatures of heart rate and other factors – all with baselines unique to each individual – that mean the immune system is acting up in that person’s specific instance. The algorithm will know its specifically tracked person is about to get sick, even if they are asymptomatic and wouldn’t otherwise show signs. The smartwatch knows, however, and can give alerts to stay home that day.

I always thought digital watches were a cool invention. I even thought in the future we’d have the Dick Tracy-style ones with the video screens to talk to one another, but who knew watches would grow up one day to save humanity from pandemics?

Further reading:

Deadline Approaching for TSLAC CARES Grant Program

The deadline to apply for the TSLAC CARES Grant Program is approaching soon! The first round of funding is closing on Sunday, May 31, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. Please be sure to submit your completed applications and all required documents by the deadline.

The goal of the TSLAC CARES Grant Program is to:

  • Fund the expansion of digital access in areas of Texas where such access is lacking, including the purchase of internet-enabled devices and provisions for technical support services in response to the disruption of schooling and other community services during the COVID-19 emergency.
  • Fund efforts that prevent, prepare for, and respond to situations arising from the COVID-19 emergency.

Funding is provided by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). TSLAC will conduct at least two grant cycles utilizing CARES Act funds with approximately $250,000 expected to be available for Cycle 1. Funding can be utilized retroactively to cover expenses incurred beginning April 21, 2020. Please note that expenses incurred before April 21, 2020 are not eligible for reimbursement.

Please visit our TSLAC CARES Grant Program webpage for more application and more information. If you have questions or need assistance with the application process, please contact Grants Administrator at

TSLAC CARES Grant Program is accepting applications!

On Friday, May 8, 2020, TSLAC Grants Administrator and Erica McCormick, TSLAC Program Coordinator, provided a webinar to cover the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) CARES Grant Program. In this webinar, our TSLAC staff provided a funding overview, as well as important details about the grant program and award information. They also answered questions from attendees and provided instructions on how to apply for the grant.

If you missed this webinar, don’t worry! Visit the TSLAC archived webinars page to access the recording and accompanying slides. Please note that registration is required to access this free recording.

About the TSLAC CARES Grant Program

TSLAC CARES Grant Program will fund community needs identified by Texas libraries in areas of digital access and inclusion. Funding can go towards 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 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.

TSLAC CARES Grant program is OPEN and accepting applications for the first cycle of funding. Completed applications and all required documents must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Central Time, Sunday, May 31, 2020.

To learn more about the TSLAC CARES Grant Program, please visit and if you have questions about the TSLAC CARES Grant Program or need assistance with the application process, please contact Grants Administrator at

Managing Libraries During COVID-19: Interviews with Library Management

Microphone image
Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

The current COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges to all library staff, including library managers. To reflect these challenges, we interviewed library managers last week from around the state to see how they are handling the changes.

Special thanks to:

What is the current status of your library?

Valerie Jensen, Chambers County: Our library system is currently closed to the public, but we are offering curbside service Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.  This will begin May 4 and go through May 15 when things will be reassessed by our county government. 

Allison Shimek, Fayette: The Fayette Public Library, Museum & Archives is currently closed to the public. We have offered curbside pickup of materials since March 19 and continue to do so. The library, museum and archives plans to reopen to the public on May 12 with limited services and hours.

Judith Bergeron, Smithville: Since March 20, our library has been closed to the public, but staff have continued to work a modified schedule, including work-from-home allowances, to accommodate social distancing. We have plans in place to begin a gradual reopening, starting with contactless curbside circulation and printing services; with computer access on an appointment only, emergency needs basis.

How has your management strategy changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Valerie Jensen, Chambers County: Not so much management, but playing mother hen. My focus has really been the well-being of the staff. Their physical well-being and mental well-being. I make it a point to contact all 25 employees at some point each week. Text, email – whatever mode of communication works best for them. Just to make sure they’re o.k. and if they have any questions. As far as working from home, we are a 3-system branch, and with 25 employees (some of whom are part-time). Part-timers aren’t being paid right now which isn’t good, but full timers are. So to justify that pay while home, we have set up lists of items for the full time staff to do daily. Webinars, trainings, database tutorials, classes we’ve signed up for, ILS maintenance, checking voicemails, emails, etc.  They send me a report each week of what they’ve worked on along with certificates. These will later be turned into court for their file. It’s our ‘official’ way of showing that we worked during this time when we could not be in the building. Part-time staff is not allowed to work from home. 

Allison Shimek, Fayette: While effective communication has always been important, I have found that it has been an incredible tool to ease anxiety, support staff, and validate complicated emotions. Admitting I do not have all the answers and including staff in developing policies that they feel comfortable with implementing has been important to morale. I believe this pandemic has made me a better active listener and taught me to communicate often, even when I do not have the answers.

Judith Bergeron, Smithville: Concern for the number of patrons and staff who fall in the COVID-19 at-risk group has us focusing less on our through-the-door numbers and more on what technology and virtual services can bring to our operations. It has been a learning process for several of us, and managing the stress that comes with forced adaptation has become one of our priorities. In addition, our ongoing policy reviews have shifted to include a public health component and some new technology components that were not as prominent before the pandemic.

Describe how your priorities have changed during the pandemic.

Valerie Jensen, Chambers County: Libraries are all about community and gathering. We can’t do that now. So we’re trying to do our jobs in an opposite direction. And it’s difficult at times. As we well know, not all people have internet, computers, handheld devices. So disseminating information to them is difficult. Our main goal/priority is to begin looking at the summer and the rest of the year. How will programs work? How will circulation work? How will public computer access work? How will our roles as librarians change? Instead of planning programs, we’ll have staff assigned to taking temperatures of the public, cleaning common spaces, and monitoring social distancing. So our priority is change. Something we’re used to in libraries, but not in this way.   

Allison Shimek, Fayette: Priorities shifted to developing projects that full and part time staff could accomplish while closed to the public and communicating them to the City and City Council. Soon after closure, there was some concern that I would have to reduce hours for part time employees so communicating what tasks were being accomplished by all staff was extremely important. Advocating for staff to continue to work and be paid their regular hours was a priority. Eventually more time was spent on research to make sure that staff was aware of current CDC guidelines. Safety education and making the library as safe as possible for staff to continue to work became a new priority.

Judith Bergeron, Smithville: As mentioned above, we have had to shift our priorities to create a more virtual presence for our library. Not only has this affected how we serve our readers, with increased easier access to e-collections, but also how we support our jobseekers and small businesses. We have always had a strong partnership with our local Chamber of Commerce, but we have been working with them even more in order to help provide some semblance of a safety net for our local business owners.

What are some duties you and your staff are responsible for during this time? What does your library’s day to day look like?

Valerie Jensen, Chambers County: Like I mentioned above. Each full-time staff has a list of things to choose from to work on daily. As far as the director – I do what my staff is doing, and of course try to keep the day to day going. I have to pay invoices, I send media releases, I stay in contact with our Emergency Operations Center for updates, I check the buildings while they are empty to make sure things are safe. And just getting things ready for curbside has required a lot of our time. I’ve done database cleanup, my Assistant County Librarian is such a great support dealing with ILS issues, making sure due dates stay blocked, fines suspended, etc. We’ve also attended a couple of the webinars sponsored by TSLAC with Mark Smith and the regional meeting to hear what other libraries are doing during this time. Our day to day never looks the same, and we like it that way. 

Alison Shimek, Fayette: Staff answer questions, provide reference services, and reader advisories over the phone. Curbside pickup has kept us very busy. Weeding and inventory are ongoing projects staff are working on. The library recently purchased a Cricut and design tablets that staff have been learning how to use and practicing for future programs. Staff have also been watching live and recorded webinars on a variety of topics.

Judith Bergeron, Smithville: One upside of continuing to work in a closed library has been the opportunity to get caught up on numerous reporting, training, and collection development/maintenance tasks that always seem to be put on a back burner when we are heavily focused on programming and patron services. Each staff member has specific projects on which they are working: some are purchasing materials (print and electronic) or cataloging materials; updating series labels on our print collection; cleaning up our patron records (e.g., purging inactive users) and our catalog records (e.g., consolidating vendor descriptions); or planning on programs (both virtual and in-person).

We have also been working to ensure risk reduction for our staff and patrons, for when we reopen to the public: cleaning, obtaining protective and disinfecting materials (sneeze guards, gloves, hand sanitizer, etc.). This will be a benefit if we see a resurgence in COVID-19 cases and have to backtrack through our reopening phases, but it will also come in handy for cold & flu season, and/or when a patron who is “too sick” to go to school or work shows up at our door.

What are you the most proud of when it comes to your library and staff?

Valerie Jensen, Chambers County: My group has such a passion for helping people not only in the library, but for the community outside our walls. We’ve had quite a few obstacles we’ve dealt with as a staff. From Hurricane Katrina refugees staying in our county shelters, being the county where the strong side of Ike hit us, and recently being in the direct path of Imelda in Winnie where one of our branches is located, and now COVID-19.  We’ve dealt with disaster, devastation, and flooding. And we always come out resilient. The staff is the testament to that. Our library system was assigned to assist at shelters if the situation arises.  So in times of disaster we work the local shelters where we’re able to get out and help people.  Now with COVID, we’re unable to physically help people but we’re adapting and the staff has been so innovative and creative reaching people inside their homes. They’ve called patrons to check on them, of course done as much virtual storytimes as we can, emailed patrons, engaged in social media…just whatever we can do.  But one thing that makes me proud with all this is how much the staff misses work. From the beginning everyone was most concerned about their co-workers.  We’ve done so many Zoom meetings just to see each other, which is great. We’re planning summer reading so we’re ready to go when we get to open.  So knowing how much they’re missing their work tells me they truly love their jobs. And you can’t beat that feeling. 

Allison Shimek, Fayette: I am most proud of staff’s positivity and desire to continue to serve our community the best they can amidst a lot of ambiguity. A letter to the editor was recently published in our local newspaper by a patron describing how staff have been able to brighten her day despite our closure. Even though we are not able to assist people in person, staff are still able to offer curbside pickup and simply be someone to talk with for those who may be feeling lonely and isolated.  

Judith Bergeron, Smithville: Flexibility and adaptability. Some of our staff have done a fantastic job of learning new things such as teaching classes, attending meetings, and offering programs through things like Zoom or Facebook Live. Others have had to get creative with what jobs could be done from home, especially if they live where there is limited bandwidth, or how they can work on some parts of a project remotely, then come into the library to apply the physical materials aspect of the task. Overall, I am grateful to work with such dedicated folks and I believe they will all be ready when it is time to reopen our doors and welcome the public back!

Are you managing a library? What challenges have you faced?