Library As Connector

A photo I took and posted to the library’s Instagram in July. The group has grown to 12-15 a week.

The phone rang at the circulation desk, echoing through the quiet, empty space. There were only three of us in the library, as our team had been broken up into separate groups to prevent the potential risk of COVID-19 spreading among employees. Our cohort was working to get holds organized, bagged, and ready for curbside pick up. Expecting a quick exchange from a patron who was letting me know they were outside the building, instead I spent 35 minutes on the phone with a housebound man who hadn’t spoken to another person in weeks. Our conversation gave him a connection to the outside world, and I enjoyed listening as he began as reserved but evolved into an impassioned, opinionated individual confident in his knowledge. As Ciara Eastell stated, “People trust libraries, and they trust those of us who work in them” (TEDx, 2019, 6:11).

People who work in libraries care about the populations they serve. Continuing to reach them no matter the challenges—pandemic or not—is part of our goal as a hyperlinked community. Many of the examples that Stephens (2014) gave of ways to be present for users spoke to things we are doing in the Nevada County Community Library system. We have a monthly book club, Wine & Read, that in safer times met to discuss books at a local wine bar. The Youth Services team rebranded Summer Reading a few years ago to the Summer Learning Program (SLP), focusing on more than reading by incorporating STEAM programs, community partnerships, and allowing all ages to participate. Adults love getting to be a part of SLP. One of our smaller branches is the pilot for our county’s Open+ Access program, allowing patrons to browse the shelves, hang out, and check out items even when staff is not present. I plan to continue to offer virtual programming even after things have returned to a more normal way of being, as I have found people who had not had the opportunity to interact with the library before now feel a connection through our online platforms. Finally, I get to watch our teen community connecting each Friday through the D&D at the Library program I created, in person in the library’s backyard (all teens are masked) as well as virtually on the library’s Discord server.

Sometimes, people need to be reminded of how integral the library is to their community, as evidenced by the campaign to save the Troy Library (Burnett, 2011), but I am hoping that if our system continues to strive to connect with patrons through as many avenues as possible, our community will remember just how important their public libraries are to their well-being and township health. We would love to have the ability for the library to continue to be part of their daily lives.

Resources

Burnett, L. (2011, November 15). Save the Troy Library “Adventures in reverse psychology” [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/nw3zNNO5gX0

Stephens, M. (2014). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. ALA Editions.

TEDx. (2019, June 13). How libraries change lives | Ciara Eastell [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/Tvt-lHZBUwU

13 thoughts on “Library As Connector

  1. Mellisa- Thank you for your post! I love that you’ve been able to continue your D&D program both in person and online. (I have a soft spot for teen programming.) COVID has certainly changed the way patrons engage with libraries. I do appreciate, however, that members of the community have been able to explore what online library services have to offer. It has allowed for people to participate in virtual programs and understand that the library is more than just a physical space that houses books. I do believe that the pandemic has fueled our interest connection. It is perhaps this interest that will help folks see that libraries have always provided communities with opportunities to connect.

    • Hi Viri,
      I wholeheartedly agree, patrons are really seeing the opportunities libraries offer for connection. There has been a noticeable uptick in digital resource use as well.
      I am really grateful that I am able to continue teen programming in a safe way that supports their need for peer interaction. Now to come up with a way to still have programs once it gets cold and rainy!

  2. Thanks for.your post! It gives me hope that we too can soon offer in-library programs! We are on the East Coast though so outside is not a great option as the weather and daylight changes. I hope to begin in-library programs soon with mask requirements. 😷

    • Hi Kristi,
      Maybe the only good thing about our current Mega-drought is the dry, warm weather. I’m trying to figure out what happens if we actually get to have snow this winter, so I totally understand the outside not always being a good option. Let’s hope for good news in the spring!

  3. Hi Mellisa,
    That is wonderful that you were able to engage with someone who just needed to be heard. Library professionals never knows who they will engage with when at work. The many programs and services at Nevada County Community Library are inspiring.

  4. The idea of Open+ Access sounds so modern to me! I’m curious how you go about securing the reference/circulation desk area to prevent stealing of equipment. I have no idea how this could be implemented in the library I currently work at, as there are too many things that patrons could access, but is library-staff operational only. It sounds like such a novel and forward thinking idea, since I feel library hours are one of the top most complained about things at a typical library. I hope the pilot is going well, since I’d be interested in seeing this become a wider trend. I feel it would be difficult for a lot of libraries to accommodate for this new system, and would require major changes to how they run their library in general.

    • Hi Lisa,
      Open+ requires a library card, registration, and training. We haven’t had any problems with it as the majority of patrons are respectful. We decided to take the side of most people being good when choosing to offer this service. Since it is connected to a library card that registers who came in and when, I think that can help with any issues of honesty, too. In fact, most of the feedback has been that our patrons miss the staff when they use the service. 🙂

  5. Mellisa,

    As another one with a soft spot for teen programming, it was really fun to see the photo of your teens at their D&D meet-up. We’re also in an area that’s been slowly opening up, so a lot of the programs we’re talking about still seem so far away to me; it’s heartening to see progress on that front.

    I thought it was really interesting when you mentioned the other night that your feedback regarding Open+ was that users missed the staff! I suppose that is the kind of feedback that lets you know you’re doing well at creating connections with your patrons and community!

    • Thank you, Annie!

      The feeling is mutual as far as our patrons and staff are concerned. I think the biggest impact on job satisfaction during the closure—besides not knowing from day to day what would be expected of us—was in missing our positive interactions with our community.

      Also, aren’t teens the best? I just had a new program begin yesterday. One of our regular teens requested a Magic: the Gathering Club, and I told him if he wanted to run it, we could make it happen. It was great! I’m up to three weekly teen programs with another monthly book club and feel like my heart is exploding with happiness. I am really looking forward to the day we can all meet inside again, though. 😀

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