By: Megan Owens
Unless you’re an essential worker, it’s easy to lose track of time and even of the world outside your home as quarantine and social distancing continues. But life moves on outside of our individual bubbles, and that includes day-to-day concerns like the information needs of library patrons. Although public libraries across the country have been closing their doors to patrons and employees alike, that hasn’t stopped libraries from finding creative ways to continue filling their roles as community resources and sources of information.
In response to the rapidly changing situation surrounding COVID-19, the Public Library Association (PLA), a branch of the American Library Association, created and shared an online survey to collect data from public libraries around the country about their responses to the public health crisis and the impact on staff and services.
The survey was only open from March 24 to April 1, and yet over 2,500 library systems shared information about how they have been affected by the pandemic. According to the PLA (2020), this represents a response rate of nearly 30%. And the data is heartening! Although the vast majority of libraries have indeed closed their physical buildings, many of them have continued to provide or have even expanded their online access to materials for patrons. This includes services like e-books and video streaming, virtual programming and reference, and even options for online renewal and checkout services.
The survey also noted creative approaches libraries were taking to engage their patrons and keep services active in response to the crisis. In the open-ended responses section, libraries self-reported a variety of resources and services they were providing to support their communities, such as:
- Providing access to online materials unrelated to COVID-19, such as unemployment information or activities to stay occupied at home
- Expanding access to library services, including policies like fine forgiveness
- Sharing library materials through mailing services or free supplies
- Providing reliable resources on the COVID-19 crisis
- Providing access to technology services and wifi
- Using makerspace resources to construct medical equipment
- Providing online programming and exhibitions
- And more!
Although this current public health crisis has affected day-to-day life in ways that were almost unimaginable even just a few months ago, it’s clear that public libraries all across the country have not forgotten their crucial roles in supporting their communities, even if their physical doors must remain closed for the time being.
“Public Libraries Respond to COVID-19: Survey of Response & Activities”, American Library Association, March 23, 2020. http://www.ala.org/pla/issues/covid-19/surveyoverview (Accessed April 10, 2020)