Always together, even when we’re apart

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Do you remember—so, so long ago, back in January—when the idea of working from home for a couple of days seemed like a nice option? An opportunity to catch up on the buried emails, check off a few paperwork “to dos” from your list, or spend some focused time on a pet project.

Now? Even though I’m starting to get used to this “new normal,” I tell you this: once it’s safe to return to work, I may live in my library for a week.

Because while we’ve been doing an amazing job of staying in touch through our web meetings, email, chat, and texts, it’s just not the same. I miss real interactions with people. I miss the social interactions that make our libraries real communities.

It’s the same people I miss so much who are making isolation not just bearable, but truly remarkable. Library colleagues are approaching this crisis with the same mix of pragmatism and optimism that I’ve encountered throughout my years as a librarian. Nowhere was this more evident than in our virtual OCLC Global Council meeting last month.

Story times, tea, and PPE

Obviously, I truly missed getting together in person with my Global Council colleagues from around the world for our annual meeting. But we had a great virtual meeting on 24 March along with a follow-up on 7 April in which we explored how our libraries and staff are not only dealing with, but rising to, the challenges created by the COVID-19 crisis. I’d like to share some of those responses with you now, and, at the end of this post, I’ll also share the discussion guide questions we used. It may be something you can circulate to your staff to help generate some insights—as it did for us.

I’m not going to go through all the questions and answers verbatim—the conversation itself was close to two hours, and the transcript of just the highlights runs to 12 pages! But, I would like to share some of my favorite moments from our discussion.

“What has made you feel ‘good’ about your library’s response to this pandemic for your community?”

  • “We are printing PPE on 3D printers.” —Eric Suess, Marshall Public Library (Idaho, US)
  • “The Rio Rancho Public Libraries and the mayor have been doing virtual Storytime.” —Lynette Schurdevin, Rio Rancho Public Library System (New Mexico, US)
  • “I got VPN connections for Reference Librarians among my library staff to expand their access to use the IP-based databases, for providing Reference and Document Delivery to support online teaching and learning for students and faculty during COVID-19 Emergency Period.” —Bushra Almas Jaswal, Forman Christian College (Pakistan)
  • “We are meeting socially, with my staff, once a week, online, and having a cup of tea while sharing our experiences.” —Evi Tramantza, Anatolia College (Greece)

What new types of partnerships and collaborations have you explored or implemented as a result of this pandemic? What are the challenges? What works?

  • “You have to be so deliberate and intentional about chatting with someone or calling them up …. Somehow, it’s different than just walking down the hall.” —Stacy Nowicki, Kalamazoo College (Michigan, US)
  • “One thing that we’ve learned is not to keep people pegged into certain types of tasks and responsibilities. People can do a lot more than they think they can …. We are all being stretched in new ways, and this is allowing staff to stretch outside their usual ways of working to find different ways they can add value.” —Christine Dulaney, Library of Congress (US)

The library is known traditionally as a third space, which has been a hybrid model of physical and digital spaces. In this new environment (100% online), how do you envision the all-digital library as a third space?

  • “I believe this will help us to be able to serve our distance students much better than we ever have before … my staff has gained confidence and skill in communicating and working through and across digital tools that will allow me to continue that trend in our future.” —Brenda Mathenia, College of the Rockies (British Columbia, Canada)
  • “I would love to see our faculty adopt more open educational resources. Some are kind of doing it on their own. Many of our faculty just say that the things that are available aren’t what they want to use. I think we can make a case now.” —Stacy Nowicki, Kalamazoo College (Michigan, US)

There was more, of course—these give you a flavor of what we talked about and, probably, parallel a lot of what you’re seeing and hearing in your libraries.

Camaraderie and cataloging

For me, the two things that really came across—besides how much we all missed seeing each other “in real life”—were:

  1. How active my colleagues and their staffs had been in modeling and promoting “virtual camaraderie” during this time, and;
  2. How much work we’ve all been doing in terms of documenting the changes, challenges, and successes we’ve been going through.

I’m not really surprised by either of those. It’s what I would have expected library workers to do in any emergency: keep calm, stay positive … and take lots of notes.

I hope that you are (and remain) healthy, wherever you may be. And I hope to see you in person as soon as it is safe to do so. But, in the meantime, here’s to virtual camaraderie and taking good notes! Unlike most professions, we have a responsibility not to just “make it through” this challenging time, but to keep track of it as well.

PS: Please feel free to share the discussion guide, below, with your staff. It was a good conversation starter for us at Global Council.


COVID-19 & Libraries Discussion Guide

Questions:

  1. Point of Pride: In the past few weeks, what has made you feel “good” about your library’s response to this pandemic for your community? For your staff? What did your library do well in responding to this pandemic?
    Additional details:

    • Gearing up staff for working at home and accessing resources (VPN, computers/laptops, internet service, etc.)
    • Reactions from your community (Wi-Fi, resources, equipment, etc.)
  2. Accessibility: How has the challenge of being able to provide services originally based upon physicality (i.e., the physical library) exposed or assisted you in thinking about equity differently?
    Additional details:

    • Physical space: washrooms, warm place, Wi-Fi
    • Services and resources for vision- and hearing-impaired
    • Digital divide: access (i.e., internet service, computers, resources, ILL, reference, etc.)
  3. Collaboration: What new types of partnerships and collaborations have you explored or implemented as a result of this pandemic? What were the challenges? What worked?
    Additional details:

    • What partnerships and collaborations were successful? What made them successful?
    • What partnerships and collaborations were not successful? What made them unsuccessful?
  4. Outside the box thinking: The library is known traditionally as a third space, which currently has been a hybrid model of both physical and digital spaces. In this new environment (100% online), how do you envision the all-digital library as a third space?
    Additional details:

    • How do you create space for customer engagement in this space?
    • How will you provide physical resources? How will you provide digital and streaming resources?
    • How will you provide programming and instruction?