While some journalists and government leaders struggle to realize that libraries do more than house books, I have been reporting on innovative, expanded library services for years. Most recently, I reported on how some public libraries have responded to the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, libraries are starting to open their doors to the public again. It seems like a good idea to look at some more new library services that maintain community engagement. Most of them will likely continue even after normal services and programs return.
A substantial majority of public libraries in the US have offered expanded library services. Common innovations include:
- leaving Wi-Fi on with the library closes and otherwise expanding its availability
- extending online renewal possibilities
- reallocating money budgeted for print resources to offer more ebooks and streaming services
- adding various kinds of virtual programming
- devising systems of virtual library cards so patrons need only copy and paste a barcode number into the online catalog
- offering services using social media, including promoting census participation
Orange County and Seminole County Library Systems, Florida
One mother in Orlando, Florida reports that her children rush to take part in the library’s Zoom storytime in the evening right before bedtime. Not only do they give children an alternative to just watching television, the virtual storytimes help foster a love of reading like nothing else. For that reason, such innovative services deserve to continue after the end of the pandemic.
But these two library systems go beyond simply putting their traditional storytimes online. They also offer virtual field trips to the library. That way, they can reach more schools than they could with in-person visits. Teachers have embraced them so enthusiastically that one of them even said it would be worth it if she had to drive to all of her students’ homes to drop off materials.
The librarians in both systems collaborate with the school systems and Head Start so that their programs will complement what the schools are doing.
When children must take classes online, parents find themselves forced into some aspects of homeschooling. Many are unprepared. So the libraries provide resources, including newsletters and online events especially for home educators. This expanded library service likewise fosters community engagement and deserves to continue.
Cook Memorial Library, La Grande, Oregon
Many libraries have had to let people put holds on books and other items through their online catalogs. But how are patrons supposed to find out about new books? Mostly, they have always learned of them by browsing or seeing new book displays in the library.
Cook Memorial Library in La Grande, Oregon, expanded its book checkout service to allow physical browsing. It introduced “Library Take-Out(side).” Twice a week, librarians set up tables outside the library, filled with items patrons could come and browse.
Everyone must wear masks, and no one can touch a book without wearing the kind of gloves food-service workers use. That way, if someone looks at something and decides not to check it out, it didn’t have to go into quarantine. No one presents library cards, either. Librarians simply looked up their patron records on a laptop computer to check out materials.
This program can only operate when weather permits. It will not be necessary once the library can reopen as usual. But in the meantime, patrons love it. Memory of this extra service and the goodwill it fosters will benefit the library for a long time to come.
Montgomery County Public Schools, Virginia
If library patrons can’t come indoors, several public and school libraries have found innovative ways to take library services and activities outdoors.
Educators have long had to deal with the “summer slide” as students stop reading and learning during the summer. With schools having to close early, they have had to deal with a COVID slide, too. Imaginative use of technology has helped to prevent it.
A librarian at Montgomery County Public Schools in Virginia conceived of checking out books and then having them sent to students by drone delivery. It helps that Wing, America’s first commercial drone delivery service, is located in the district. Getting the books back to the school is another problem, but one the library will willingly put off for a while.
So far, Wing offers only the one pilot site. Nowhere else can offer drone service until it becomes more widely available. But the Montgomery County school system intends to keep using it indefinitely.
Lorain Public Library System, Ohio
The Lorain Public Library System in Ohio had already planned to expand its library services into a park before the pandemic hit. In cooperation with the county, the park district, and the state library, it bought a shipping container to be the Little Library on the Lake. They set it up opposite the beach at Lakeview Park.
This innovative library service likewise depends on favorable weather. Its first season has ended.
Instead of books and other traditional library materials, the Little Library on the Lake checked out a variety of outdoor exercise equipment. Most often, parents checked out soccer balls, yoga mats, bicycles, etc. for their children to use. A couple of dozen people obtained library cards who hadn’t used the library before. Library staff washed and disinfected everything when it was returned.
In addition, the library offered free Wi-Fi, which covered the entire beach. The Little Library by the Lake closed at the end of August, but it will reopen next summer, pandemic or no pandemic. The library system hopes to add other expanded programming, such as bird-watching sessions, craft programs, and storytimes in the future. And the Wi-Fi will remain active year-round.
The great outdoors / Anne Ford, American Libraries. November 2, 2020
Libraries work to keep community engaged despite pandemic / Catherine Matos, Orlando Sentinel. November 2, 2020
Public libraries launch, expand services during COVID-19 pandemic /ALA news. April 9, 2020