Not to be confused with Love in the Time of Cholera, this time of pandemic that we are navigating is not so romantic and new for all of us. While it is new to us, it is not unprecedented. I was listening to an interview with Simon Sinek and he said that it was making him crazy how people kept saying in “our uncertain times…” because this is not unique (Asprey, 2020). Pandemics have hit often over human history. It is just new to many of us in our lifetimes. We are having to come to terms with a new normal. As I was reading some of the articles about how libraries are changing in the age of COVID, what I was struck most by was the creativity and flexibility in which libraries are continuing to serve their communities with compassion and humor.
Some of the more collaborative examples included DC libraries that continue to make their printing services available for patrons. So important in the current unemployment climate and especially crucial for those seeing public, state or federal services. The Seattle libraries keeping much needed handwashing and hygiene stations open for the homeless populations (Wilburn, 2020).
Outside the US many countries have become highly creative in their efforts to provide excellent service in a limited physical space. Ulsan Metropolitan City Library in South Korea has created an after-hours locker pick-up outreach to be able to get materials to their patrons who are not available during regular set hours. The Shanghai Public Library set their service to coordinate with the library’s WeChat account to reserve a time to borrow materials. The Bremen Public Library in Germany has joined with a local theater company to build plexiglass protected workspaces for staff. This allows for the library to pay for the cost of the materials only while the theater puts up the labor portion of the process. A collaboration that works for both compromised organizations and allows them to continue providing services and value to their community (Bibliotheca, 2020).
Perhaps my favorite profile of so many creative library systems was that of the Johnson County Library. In their Library Update (2020), they made sure that their patrons knew that they are still there for them and all the ways that they could still utilize library service. They also did not let the fact that they may not be open for normal operations stop or limit the way in which they contribute to their community. From traditional library services like reference desk and story times, they worked to stay connected. Creating online workshops, reading programs and using the makerspaces to created masks and face shields for front line workers showed their commitment to Johnson County. They even had some workers delivering for Meals on Wheels to address the needs of homebound residents.
In a time of unrest, division and strife, on so many levels, seeing libraries working so hard to create and continue to find ways to serve in their communities is inspiring. Yes, there are stories too of libraries having to tackle obstacles like patrons not wanting to comply with health regulations, endless book returns, not enough staffing and new health protocols that have resulted in scaling back of services or closing of library doors outright (Kenney, 2020). The digital divide has been made even more apparent with the closing of library doors, which for many is the only way to gain internet access. But I prefer to see this transition as a time of hope, compassion and innovation. The new and creative ways that libraries are leading communities to rethink about how to better serve each other will continue well into “normal” times. I hope.
Asprey, D. (2020) (Podcast) These are not uncertain times: Ways to pivot, lead and thrive. https://blog.daveasprey.com/simon-sinek-740/
Bibliotheca. (2020). Libraries around the world prepare for a new normal.
García Márquez, Grossman, & Grossman, Edith. (1988). Love in the time of cholera (1st American ed.). Alfred A. Knopf.
Johnson County (KS) Library. (2020). Libraries Update. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEFspQiE-oA&fbclid=IwAR0wjNAM1jftWrp5bW93GVqlsARE3dTksuBgbzjvGUL-YBleFkOqPy1NFIk
Kenney, B. (2020). The library is open (sort of…).
Wilburn, T. (2020). Libraries are dealing with new demand for books and services during the pandemic. https://www.npr.org/2020/06/16/877651001/libraries-are-dealing-with-new-demand-for-books-and-services-during-the-pandemic
Picture 1: From: https://ideas.demco.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/how_libraries_adapting_to_covid-1024×683.jpg
Picture 2: From: The library of the University of Leuven, Belgium from https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2016/11/10/how-wrong-is-greta-van-susteren-about-libraries/
Picture 3: From: Miller Branch of the Howard County Library System. https://www.baltimoresun.com/coronavirus/cng-ho-libraries-coronavirus-20200601-rgif5a3jvrdctc6zm7bdnj2jkq-story.html