A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Rising to the Challenges

by on July 16, 2020

I’ve been thinking a lot in the last few weeks about how rapidly and widely our jobs are changing. As information professionals we are uniquely adept at finding new ways to provide access to individuals in a variety of circumstances. The internet has been around for a while so getting people ebooks, databases, and virtual content is not new to us. And as a result, we’ve been doing a great job in this new reality.

But what about community? Like many of you I am struggling to adapt to the new world in which our branches are empty and quiet. Where I used to work at my computer and hear children laughing, playing, (or, let’s be honest, crying) I now only hear the hum of the air conditioner. Where I used to marvel at how fast items flew off of our shelves, now the materials sit untouched. Where I once watched teens sit in the teen space and play D&D there is now an empty table. Surreal is a word I’m using too often lately but I think it bears using here.

I’ve spent so much of my professional life driving for community engagement. How do I go out and find our patrons where they are? How do I ensure people have equitable access to our physical spaces and materials? How do I help build an environment that is inviting, welcoming, and safe? All of that seems lost now. We’ve worked so hard to tear down barriers. Now our whole job is putting them up. Locking patrons out. Keeping them safe by keeping them away.

It comes as no surprise that library staff everywhere are rising to the challenge by developing virtual spaces for our patrons. That work is wonderful and inspiring. I attended a library’s virtual Teen Advisory Board meeting this week and was blown away by the level of engagement. Library staff are adaptable, innovative, and creative. For so many that I’ve met it is what brought them to the profession. However, as wonderful (and critical) as online engagement is – it represents a shift in the way we deliver services and materials to our patrons. In the immortal words of Dylan, the times they are a-changin’.

So, this is a bit of a long missive to say – you aren’t alone if you are feeling wayward or unsure of what your job is anymore. If you miss packed storytimes or helping folks access our computers, you aren’t alone. If you miss the hum of excitement before a big program or the first day of Summer Reading in your branch, you aren’t alone. If you miss a group of teens sitting around a table making jokes and planning a program or hanging out and making snot-colored slime, you aren’t alone. And if you are ok with the break from patrons – that’s ok too.

I’m going to leave you with an excerpt of a poem from David Levithan that I love. It reminded me of why I started working in public libraries. Although I miss a lot from my job before, I believe we’ll get back to where we were again. We might even get somewhere better. Hang in there. It’s ok to feel the way you feel. We’ll get through this together.

“You are here for

The girls with the mockingjay tattoo

The boy who needs to laugh at Captain Underpants because there are holes in his own

The girl who learned to speak out from reading

About a girl who spoke out

The boy who no longer wants to be a phony

And the boy who’s caught him in the rye

You give them words.

By learning the ways other people have told


We learn to tell our own

By telling our own

We become free

Yes, free.”

  • David Levitan, 19 Love Songs