A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Collaborative Resource Sharing in Difficult Times

by on April 1, 2020

As libraries shutter their doors and send staff to work from home during this crisis, many are scrambling to still offer content, virtually, to their communities. Virtual storytimes abound on YouTube or Facebook live. However, publishers have strict rules regarding how their content can be shared online, and some librarians may feel uncomfortable appearing on camera as they struggle to balance children, anxiety, and other issues that have come up as they adjust to working remotely. Sharing resources with the community is a noble goal, but it doesn’t have to be so stressful. These tips will help you find high-quality and engaging content to share, as we all shelter this storm.

Tip #1: Not Everything Has to Be Live
Many libraries already have a wealth of digital content they have created, regardless of whether or not such content has ever made it to their website or YouTube page. Now is a great time to share those resources! Even if you have already shared videos or online guides in the past, it’s perfectly fine to share them again, with captions letting people know why they are relevant now. Many people are just trying to navigate the whirlwind of being sheltered in place or preparing for things to get worse before they get better. They will be appreciative of useful content coming across their feed, regardless of whether or not it’s brand new. Plus, consider the burden it puts on staff to create new content if they don’t have the technical equipment or skills to do so. Is this something everyone has been trained to do? Is it worth the extra stress to ask untrained people to figure it out now, or to ask your IT folks to take whatever content staff are able to make and “fix it” to be post-worthy? If you want the release of your content to “feel” live, schedule a live premiere on YouTube, or host a virtual viewing party with re-shares of previously posted content.

Tip#2: Provide Options for Adults and Older Kids
Social distancing can become isolation very quickly, and isolation can be dangerous for mental health. Every library has staff with unique interests and talents. Perhaps you can tap them to host an online meetup where people can see each other, using a platform like Zoom, to share knitting, meditation, games, coffee, or even practice speaking in another language. Maybe you booktalk some great reads available through your e-library, or demo some of the databases available that could be helpful as the library is closed. Maybe there are even ways to continue offering periodic virtual reference, via email or in real time. The Kent State iSchool has created a continually growing online document of databases and other academic/reference content providers that are offering free access (sometimes limited) while libraries are closed. Let’s Move in Libraries is collecting a variety of online library programs that encourage adults to move, including line dancing, yoga, and walking/running clubs. Libraries bring people together; we can still do this virtually, without having to overcomplicate.

Tip #3: Remember Your Customers who Speak Languages other than English
This can be an extra difficult time for folks who speak languages other than English, especially immigrants and those who rely on multilingual library staff for support. As you share content created externally, be sure to also look for resources in other languages. Some great resources for kids and families include Embracing Diversity: Your Songs and Rhymes from the Burnaby Public Library, Sesame Street in other languages, such as Portuguese or Spanish, and the International Children’s Digital Library, with online books in dozens of languages. For adults, the National Network of Libraries of Medicine has put together a guide of multilingual health-related content; HealthyChildren.org from the American Association of Pediatrics is available in English and Spanish; and the Canadian parenting resource Best Start has information in multiple languages for new and expecting parents.

Tip #4 Not Everything Has to Come from the Library
Every client-facing organization, business, and nonprofit in your area wants to continue to engage their communities virtually right now. Utilize your networks, both organizational and individual, to make the library a hub of local content from places like extension offices, schools, health departments, and small businesses. You can even reach out to other libraries already doing a great job creating and/or sharing content and ask if you can share and credit their work (check out the Deschutes Public Library list of ongoing author events as an example). You may get some “no’s”, but you can survive that, especially when you’re much more likely to get “yes’s”!

To make this process easier, perhaps have a team creating weekly calendars of the types of content you’d like to share, delegate the collection of that content to appropriate staff members, and have another team work on uploading or posting. A potential pitfall to avoid is becoming overly bureaucratic; worrying about policy over people. This is a great time to delegate responsibility—and authority—to staff outside of traditional leadership roles. You’ve pulled together a great team, right? Now let them shine! Libraries who collaborate well, internally and externally, amidst this crisis have an opportunity to remind the community, and yourselves, that the library is more than a physical repository of books. We are centers of community learning, information gatherers and distributors, and—above all—people embedded in our communities, working to make the places we live and work the best that they can be.

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