Tuesday, April 14, 2020

What is a library? In a post-COVID world, how will they change?

Vancouver BC Public Library
It is now over 30 days since I've been "social distancing." This has radically changed my world and how I think about interacting with others. And for some libraries, they have also been closed 30 days (or more) as part of the effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.  Many libraries and libraries systems have:
  • Shifted their offerings to online spaces, including holding storytime, book clubs, etc., in online formats.  
  • Libraries have licensed additional content for their communities.
  • Expanded licenses on existing content to allow for greater "at home" usage. 
  • Eliminated fines.
  • Made it easier for people to obtain library cards.
  • Shared newly free content with their communities.
  • Made greater use of social media.
What is not as visible are the changes happening behind the scenes.  COVID-19 is having an economic ripple effect, which will change the funding available for our libraries. Yes, libraries of all kinds. While libraries are demonstrating their worth, during this trying time, they will be competing with many other services for limited funding after the pandemic has subsided. This will affect everything that libraries do.

The question is: How will libraries change?
  • How will libraries define themselves?  
  • Without reliance on physical space, how will staff answer the question, 'What is a library?'
  • Will libraries continue to use online spaces for live interactions with community members, in addition to in-person activities?
  • Will more libraries go fine-free for good?
  • Will libraries focus more on access to materials outside of the library building (digital access)?
  • Will continued concerns about germs, infections, viruses, etc. limit the size of in-person group meetings and activities?
  • Will social distancing permanently change how library spaces are laid out?
  • How will staff be deployed differently, based on changes in services and changes in funding?
  • Where will staff work? Will more staff work remotely on a regular basis?
  • Will funding streams change and what will that mean for library services?
  • What will friends groups do?  Will they still do book sales, author talks, and fundraisers?  How will these need to change?
  • How will library strategic plans, long-range plans, or five-year plans change in the wake of this? 
  • If there is a shift in library staffing, what will this mean for a library's hiring needs? (And what will that mean for thousands of people who want to go to work in a library?)
  • How will contingency and disaster plans change, due to what we've learned during the pandemic?
  • How will libraries demonstrate their worth in the months and years ahead?
Yes, so many questions and right now we have the time to think about them.  Depending on a library's fiscal year and funding cycles, it may need to answer some of those questions soon.

Lastly, IFLA has a relevant blog post, which you may want to read, entitled "Now and Next: What a Post-COVID World May Bring for Libraries." The post has ten questions which you (and your library) may want to ponder:
  1. Restrictions on movement have dramatically changed our lives – will we get back to normal?
  2. Many of our activities have ‘pivoted’ to online – will they stay there?
  3. Governments are investing billions into economies – how will they take it back?
  4. Education has been disrupted and delayed – can we limit the scarring effects?
  5. Testing, tracking and emergency powers are helping to fight the pandemic – but will governments be able to let go?
  6. It has become clear that laws and practices were not ready – will we learn the lessons?
  7. Weaknesses and incompleteness in our digital infrastructure have become clear – will we fix them?
  8. The need for global information sharing is obvious – will we make it permanent?
  9. Pollution is down and air quality up – will we learn to live greener lives?
  10. The value of culture in well-being is clear – will we continue to invest in making it a reality? 

1 comment:

Carol Perryman said...

At the moment, the single thought that comes to my mind is that we need to take community collaboration seriously. If there is an additional burden/shortfall on service and public agencies, ALL of us need to find new ways to continue. I welcome increased efficiencies and serious examination of the reality: we cannot be all, to all. But we can be amazing, and plenty.