Thursday, November 05, 2020

#NYLA2020 : Pre-conference COVID-19 Panel

View of the panel on the conference site
This was held on Wednesday afternoon (yesterday), before the conference officially opened on Thursday (today).

Program Description: This panel discussion will focus on the challenges faces by library leaders in making operational decisions during the past seven months. Library directors from different sizes and types of public libraries will share their insights on lessons learned and the challenges ahead.

Program Speakers:

  • Tina Dalton, Library Director, Cuba Circulating Library (small public library in southwestern NY)
  • Scott Jarzombek, Executive Director, Albany Public Library (7 branch library with ~140 staff members)
  • Caitlin Johnson, Library Director, Schuylerville Public Library (east of Saratoga Springs serving about 10,000 people)
  • Christopher Sagaas, Director, Utica Public Library (Utica has ~60,000 residents. 25 staff members when fully staffed. Furloughed 1/3 of staff.)

Quick Notes:

There was SO much more to this session that I was able to capture.  This was an excellent session for other directors, library staff, and other library people, because it provided information from different libraries with different points of view, that were all going through the same crisis.

Biggest challenges 

  • Moving to work at home mode. Assuring people had the right technology at home and work to do. (Sagaas)
  • What type of programs they could offer virtually and what did people want to attend. (Johnson) They didn't have great interest in virtual events for children, which she thinks was due to students already spending so much time on their computers.
  • From a leadership position, the human resources part was challenging. (Jarzombek) The emotional toll and extra stressors.  Hard to "read the room" when you're not in the same room with your staff.
  • To get the community to see that the library was doing virtual programming and getting them to connect with it. (Dalton)  Also had staff that were not immediately comfortable with newer technologies.

Now that limited in-person services have resumed, what are the challenges or what's surprising?

  • Telling people that they cannot hangout in the library. (Johnson)
  • Worried that people would be combative about the restrictions, but the community responded to the sound reasoning provided by the library and its board. (Sagaas)
  • Surprised by how slow it has been, since they reopened. It is picking up. (Dalton) 
  • Moving to a more transactional model takes more time. More logistics. Everything that took one person now takes two people (or more).  While the statistics are down, what they do takes more more work. (Jarzombek)  Answering reference questions is more like what librarians learned in school and are more in-depth.  They are communicating better because they are meeting weekly. They are using this time to fix some of their processes and make improvements.

What would you tell "past" you to put into your crisis plan?

  • This has changed their long-range planning. They are thinking further out. (Sagaas) He feels that putting more worst-case scenario into long-range planning would have been helpful nine-months ago.
  • Stock up on emergency personal protective equipment (PPE). Purchase laptops for staff. Spend more time on staff tech training. (Dalton) 
  • Know the why of what you're doing and what roles you need to fill. (Johnson)  Make the strategic plan is based on community input and keep the plan in people's minds.
  • Have a crisis plan and have a phrased approach to the plan.  Make it reversable, so you know what to do when you are coming out of the crisis. (Jarzombek)  Make it something you can share with stakeholders and with the public. He was lucky to have expertise on staff and on the board to help the library think about this.  Also look at what other libraries are doing.  Promoting the plan can help the public be comfortable in what you are doing.

Unsung heroes at your library during this crisis?

  • Circulation supervisor who figured out how to do library appointments. This person had retail experience. (Sagaas)
  • The children's librarian was able to reach out into the community to do online storytime and other programming.  (Johnson)
  • The youth service coordinator who did virtual programming and high quality videos. A library page did crafting videos. (Dalton) 
  • Core leadership group who did consensus building, took on new responsibilities, outside of the box thinking, etc. (Jarzombek)

What would you say to Gov. Cuomo on how can libraries serve their communities during COVID-19?

  • Traditional library services are still popular.  Wish the Governor had a better idea of how libraries operate and what they do. Wish libraries had been given better support.  (Jarzombek)
  • Libraries do more than books, e.g., farm to library, summer meals,  the social services side of libraries (Johnson)
  • Libraries are not just buildings in their communities. They understand the needs of their communities and work to fill those needs. (Dalton) 
  • Thanks for the press conferences and statewide leadership.  Wish that a public librarian had been part of those press conferences. (Sagaas)

As you think about operations over the next 1-2 years, what is keeping you up at night?

  • Income shortage which means they will do less than what they are capable of. (Sagaas)
  • We're not through this pandemic yet. We need to maintain relevance to the community. (Dalton) 
  • Have people's well-being in her hands (staff and patrons).  Libraries are continuing to evolve and fit new roles in their communities. (Johnson)
  • He has been vocal about airflow in libraries, etc. Has been following REALM, but would like someone locally who can translate what REALM is learning into information everyone can use.  Libraries are spaces in the community and those spaces need to be safe (e.g., air quality).  Need to focus on operations and facilities. (Jarzombek)


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