The COVID-19 outbreak has impacted almost all industries here in California and it has left large segments of the state’s population isolated. Although many of the state-mandated shutdowns have been lifted, key community services, like that of the library, have been limited to curbside services. Improving connection with the community by means of digital services is of utmost importance. There are 4 areas (although there are probably many more) needing to be targeted: 1. Business services for job seekers. 2. Homeschool and distance learning assistance and collaborations. 3. Basic reference and technology assistance. 4. Community connections and engagement.
The issue to address today is the need for increased community connections. Google has a host of wonderful and free products to help with bringing people together while they are apart. Many public schools are utilizing Google products such as Google Classroom, Docs, Slides, and Meets features as they perform distance learning education. I purpose using another Google product, Google Forms, to build interactive Breakouts for use in the public library as a way to entertain the community and draw people together. This is a low-cost activity that can be repurposed for all patron age-ranges and in a variety of topics.
The pilot Breakout to be discussed in more detail here will be designed with teens in mind and focus on The Harry Potter Series during the month of October. Additional information and specifics are listed below in the Action Plan section.
Goals/Objectives for Technology or Service:
It is with great enthusiasm that I suggest utilizing interactive Breakouts in the library as a way for librarians to share in a fun experience with their patrons, to engage with the community, and to provide educational activities and opportunities. In a time when many Californians are dealing with an air of melancholy, offering fun, engaging, and entertaining activities is a way to draw people together (if even from a distance).
Description of Community you wish to engage:
The beauty of interactive Breakouts is that they can be applied to a multitude of topics and enjoyed by a wide variety of age ranges. I would like to see interactive Breakouts used in coordination with adult reading groups, to highlight major holidays or local events, as a means to showcase special library collections, and with younger library patrons. For the pilot Breakout, this should be used as an interactive tool for teens. Potential topics include but are not limited to “Banned book week”, well known series like “Harry Potter”/“Hunger Games”/“Divergent”, or “Local Landmarks”. I would love to see future iterations include collaborative efforts with local junior and senior high schools to cross promote library services and offer an educational complement to traditional learning.
Action Brief Statement:
This Action Brief is written with the intention of convincing the Santa Clarita Community Library Manager that by utilizing interactive Breakouts, the library will not only meet its community’s intellectual needs, but also facilitate a sense of connection and unity that has been lost during the shut-downs. Our community needs to be reminded that the library is a safe place to turn to for questions and that the library is filled with people who care and desire to stay connected, if even from a distance.
Evidence and Resources to support Technology or Service:
Here is an example of a Breakout titled Dracula’s Curse. This was used in an English course with students who were familiar with Bram Stoker’s Dracula: https://sites.google.com/view/draculascurse
Tiffany Breyne, writing for the Public Library Association wrote a compelling article about the need for public libraries to take this unique moment of time, and use it to increase their social media and digital presence. She says, “we want our patrons and followers to continue to see us as a source of information, regardless of whether [they] can come to our building” (2020). Libraries around the world have begun to offer more community engagement through Instagram activities, by offering Spotify playlists, by conducting online book clubs, by offering Twitter trivia, and so much more (Breyne, 2020). Creating interactive Breakouts is a natural extension to the above-mentioned digital initiatives.
All Breakouts need to be designed with the ability to be viewed on a variety of devices. “Mobile devices have revolutionized the way people communicate, access, and disseminate information” (Bolorizaheh et at., 2012). Bearing that in mind, “by incorporating mobile technology into our services, we are encouraging [our community] to learn in their preferred methods and are reaching out users at their point of need” (Bolorizaheh et at., 2012).
An additional concern to be considered during this time is the need for the community to see the value of the library. This is a time when libraries, among many other industries, are needing to adapt and think of new ways to accomplish goals and connect with users. Stephens reminds us to approach change confidently. “Don’t be afraid of change: the way it’s always been done does not have to be the way it will always be done” (2010). Funding for public libraries is always a concern, and it is anticipated that by offering entertaining and engaging online programming, the community will see value in the library and the services it is providing. Schmidt also reminds us that “when we’re closed off to concepts without examining them fully, or without exploring frameworks in which they exist, we’re unlikely truly to innovate or create any radically meaningful experiences” (2014). It is for this reason that the Santa Clarita Library needs to consider digital programming that includes interactive Breakouts.
Mission, Guidelines, and Policy related to Technology or Service:
This plan endeavors to create stimulating, alternative programming that complements other digital services provided by Santa Clarita Library. The wide variety of potential applications makes this an ideal tech activity to employ during the library closures. Our constant mission is to positively engage the community while also creating a safe environment where people can learn, grow, and be themselves.
For the YA Breakout outlined in this proposal, the youth services Librarians will be tasked with the construction of the Google Form. All final products should be reviewed and approved by the Community Library Manager and tested by library staff before going live. The Youth Services Librarian should be the point person to regularly monitor that there are no complications such as broken links or image loading issues. For the pilot run of the library’s interactive Breakouts plan, there should be either a Harry Potter themed Breakout just in time for Halloween.
Funding Considerations for this Technology or Service:
Perhaps the greatest aspect of this endeavor is the low cost associated with it. Google Forms is free to use and only requires a Google account to operate. Its ubiquitous nature makes Google Forms an ideal medium as both the librarians should have a working knowledge it and many people are comfortable with working with them, as well. The only significant cost would come as a result of labor for the time taken to construct the Breakout(s) and the time needed to monitor the Breakout’s usability.
If this plan is proven to be the success that is anticipated, additional collaborations would be ideal. For educational collaborations involving specific curriculum, coordination with educators would be required. For iterations that seek to coordinate with library Digital Book Clubs, collaboration with Adult Services Librarians will also need to take place. The initial cost is low, and time is the biggest cost factor.
Action Steps & Timeline:
In addition to the low-cost of this plan, the turn-around time is also of great appeal. Depending on the complexity and creativity of the Breakout, roughly four (4) hours are required to build an interactive Breakout. Once a theme is decided upon, the time used to construct the Breakout would be spent creating clues. Clues could (and should) include a variation of digital jigsaw puzzles, ransom notes, newspaper clippings, images, websites, receipts, images of text messages, images of TV news headlines, and so much more to create an immersive activity.
For this action plan, the pilot Breakout should be designed for teens (13-18) The preliminary plan is to build a breakout with 4 locks based on the Harry Potter series. This needs to be completed and available to the public before Halloween. If it is preferrable by the Community Library Manager, it can be narrowed to a specific book, at which point, I would advocate for The Prisoner of Azkaban or The Goblet of Fire. The Breakout should be designed in such a way that participants who have watched the movies and/ or read the books can accomplish it with clues. The clues should include: a newspaper clipping designed to look like it came from the Daily Prophet, a jigsaw puzzle with an image clue, an image of a breaking news segment on TV, and word scramble. All clues should be original and created by the librarian specifically for this Breakout.
Once the Breakout is complete, the Community Library Manager should review the final product and share the link with library staff to be tested. Using the feedback from library staff, any kinks should be worked out in 1-3 days (depending on how quickly the desired number of staff has had time to adequately reviewed the Breakout). Keeping the concept localized should expedite the process, resulting in the entire process being completed in one week.
Staffing Considerations for this Technology or Service:
With no in-house services required for this plan, there would need to be minimal staff required to complete it. There would need to be one staff-member tasked with building the Breakout. There would also need to be one staff member (presumably the one who built the Breakout) who can monitor that there are no broken links or failings in the operations of the Breakout.
Training for this Technology or Service:
There should be a one-time, brief tutorial offered to all librarians who will take a direct role in building the Breakouts. This training should include the Community Library Manager, the Youth Services Librarian, and any Librarian who will oversee future Breakout topics, such as those who monitor the Digital Adult Book Clubs. There should be an hour allotted for instruction and an additional 30 minutes allotted for exploring and acclimating to Google Forms and the websites needed to complete the Breakout.
Once the pertinent staff have learned and understand how to use Google Forms, a brief tutorial screencast should be made for potential participants explaining how to navigate the Breakout and complete it. Spoilers for any ongoing Breakouts should not be used in the tutorial and an alternate template may need to be created as a demonstration tool for the video.
Promotion & Marketing for this Technology or Service:
Initial marketing services should include space on the library’s website. There should be a brief description on the website about the breakout, an explanation for why it was created, and this should be followed by the link to the screencast tutorial and then a link directly to the Breakout.
Social media is also a fantastic way to self-promote a program. The library’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts should all have a brief but visually compelling infographic with pertinent links to the Breakout.
If and when there are teen related calls in the month of October, library staff should remind callers of the current Breakout activity and where they can go online to participate. Additionally, patrons who have a significant number of requests for teen material can have a flier advertising the Breakout included in their curbside pick-up.
Future iterations can be promoted online in the same fashion. They can also be targeted to more specific groups of patrons. For example, versions that correlate to Adult Digital Book Clubs can be announced during meetings.
Versions that collaborate with schools and include specialized content, can be showcased on the library’s website, and also be included in the online component of their class content.
This might also be a great opportunity to partner with the local newspaper, radio station, and TV channel. It would be great to see library programming of all kinds highlighted on the local media sources. Even if it was not formally included in publishing, it would still be a great promotional effort to include on their social media pages. This would expand the viewer audience.
All librarians who participate in the interactive Breakout plan should determine their baseline for success. A good pilot program that is only promoted from within the library’s website should consider this a success with 10-15 completed Breakouts in the 4 weeks of October. This should greatly increase as word spreads and as future versions have targeted audiences and collaborators. I would strongly suggest that once teens complete the Breakout, they be ushered to a brief survey where they can answer candidly and anonymously as to whether they found the activity entertaining. This would be a great opportunity to also ask if there are any recommendations for future iterations.
Breyne, T., (2020). Engaging with patrons via social media. Public Libraries Online. http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2020/04/engaging-with-patrons-via-social-media/
Bolorizadeh, A., Brannen, M., Gibbs, R., & Mack, T., (2012). Making Instruction Mobile. The Reference Librarian. https://doi.org/10/1080/02763877.2012.707488.
Stephens, M., (2010). The hyperlinked school library: engage, explore, celebrate. Australian School Library Association. https://search.proquest.com/openview/e6120f7f181b5cfb7735c97b7e1a951a/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=54083
Schmidt, A., (2014). Exploring Context | the user experience. Library Journal. https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=exploring-context-the-user-experience