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Libraries Making the Most of Their Resources: A Roundup
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Posted On June 2, 2020
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We’re always looking to celebrate the innovative programs and services all types of libraries come up with to serve their communities, no matter the circumstances. If your library is doing something you’d like us to write about (or you’d want to write about yourself), email bscardilli@infotoday.com or tweet us (@ITINewsBreaks). Here’s a two-page sampling of NewsBreaks’ and Information Today’s coverage of libraries over the past couple of years. Click on each title for the link to the full article.

‘Going Virtual: Libraries See Challenges and Opportunities in the Pandemic’

Your Next Read program at East Meadow Public LibraryOn May 5, 2020, Terry Ballard used East Meadow Public Library in New York as a case study for how libraries responded to closing their doors, and he spoke to other area librarians about what they were doing. He writes:

The [East Meadow Public Library] Reader Services department members had scheduled a major book discussion for the [week after closing], and they began to think of ways to have it online. The patrons were willing, but the first attempt, using a Google Groups email list set up for the occasion, worked out very badly. There were considerable technical issues, and they could not reproduce the type of give-and-take discussion that they had once enjoyed. A week later, they tried again, using Zoom, and that was totally successful.

The Zoom approach was used in the ensuing weeks to enable video chats with authors Joshilyn Jackson and Fiona Davis. However, the library encountered a malicious hacking incident in a program days later. The library administration had by then decided that videoconferencing should be a feature of programs even after the library reopened, as it was reaching a previously underserved population of homebound patrons. Fortunately, a number of Zoom alternatives were springing up to fill this kind of demand.

The Reader Services librarians then set out to create an entirely new online product to emulate the type of service they had been providing in the physical space. Their team of three librarians worked out the mechanics, content, and design of Your Next Read using the free online product JotForm. Within days, it had gone online and was discovered by patrons almost immediately.


‘How Libraries Are Responding to a Global Pandemic’

On March 31, 2020, Jessica Hilburn shared what librarians were doing to cater to patrons while libraries were closed, and she provided a list of suggestions for better serving them in the future. She writes:

Libraries across the country have created ingenious solutions for a lack of in-person services. Jennifer at the Suffolk Public Library in Virginia posted an at-home cooking tutorial on Facebook. Sydney Krawiec at the Peters Township Public Library in Western Pennsylvania created the Hogwarts Digital Escape Room. Other libraries have expanded on these ideas and more by developing their own escape rooms, video-conferenced mindfulness programs, and other extremely creative concepts. At my library, we have held book club via FaceTime and in a Facebook event, and after copyright for online storytime was determined to be fair use by ALA copyright specialist Carrie Russell, our Facebook Live storytimes have become very popular and are shared across the county.

Not everyone can be served digitally by the library. A significant portion of the population in my rural area has no access to the internet. The same goes for many small and rural libraries across the country. Some community members do not see our Facebook posts. They cannot use Scholastic’s online resources or binge watch a backlog of shows to take their minds off of the pandemic. How do we serve these patrons when we cannot see them in person? This is a question being debated by library workers on social media every day. I wish I had a magic answer to this question that included something other than the internet being an essential utility and calling on the powers that be to invest in fiber internet and rural digital infrastructure. I’m sure it is something we will continue coming back to in the months and years after the pandemic subsides.


‘Dad Jokes and Storytime Posts: How to Create a Fun, Informative Library Social Media Presence’

On Feb. 25, 2020, Jessica Hilburn provided a how-to guide and shared her lessons learned for getting the most out of social media. She writes:

Before you create or grow your library’s online presence, make sure you are committed to the task. Once you start developing content, setting patterns, and allowing patrons to expect to find information about the library online, you will need to maintain that work and meet their expectations. It is also paramount that you set parameters for what is expected from library staff in coordinating the accounts. …

The biggest simultaneous blessing and curse of getting your library online is engagement. Libraries need to be engaged with their patrons, and online is no exception. Having an online presence creates the expectation that someone from your library will be available to reply to comments, answer messages, and mediate the forum created by its existence.

Depending on your institution’s policy about working outside of regularly scheduled hours, social platforms can often demand constant attention. Be sure to separate your work life from your personal life so that you are not repeatedly inundated with messages and requests. Most social platforms require that in order to have an institution or business page, it has to be managed by an individual with a profile. I made the mistake of linking my personal Facebook with the library’s page and thus was kept awake by constant notifications.


‘Synergy on the Plains: Omaha Turns an Abandoned Bookstore Into a Thriving Makerspace’

On Feb. 11, 2020, Terry Ballard wrote about a community initiative in Nebraska called Do Space. He explains:

In 2014, some citizens of Omaha, Neb., had the dream of creating a community space dedicated to enhancing access to technology. They established a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization named Do Space, corralled local funding sources, and identified an abandoned Borders bookstore to serve as home base. The cost of the building and the refurbishment came to more than $10 million. Incredibly, by the end of 2015, they had hired staff members, secured partnerships with the Omaha Public Library and the local Metropolitan Community College, and hired former Omaha Public Library employee Rebecca Stavick as executive director. The Do Space workshop opened its doors in fall 2015. …

Do Space looks like a modern library, with places to sit at a desktop computer (PC or Mac) and places to sit alone with a checked-out laptop and work. The computers are loaded with the latest utility programs, along with some advanced resources such as CAD/CAM programs. Proprietary databases found at Omaha Public Library are available at Do Space too. …

As Do Space enters its fifth year of operation, around 75,000 Nebraskans have signed up for free memberships. There is a thriving volunteer program whose members have logged more than 25,000 hours. … Since its opening, Do Space has held nearly 3,000 programs. While they cover all ages, extra attention is paid to the very young and the senior population. A look at the Do Space calendar shows, for example, basic coding programs for ages 3–5.


‘Making the Past Personal: Heritage and Genealogy Technology and Programming’

On Dec. 3, 2019, Jessica Hilburn shared her experiences in creating heritage and genealogy programming at her library using both physical and online resources. She writes:

When a 1920s passport photo of a woman holding an infant appeared on the screen, tears sprang to my patron’s eyes: He was seeing his mother and grandmother for the first time. I instantly knew genealogy programming would be a hit at Benson Memorial Library. I have not completed a scientific study, but interest in genealogy and family heritage seems to be at a high point in today’s culture, and we should help people ride that wave straight into the library. By embracing traditional and modern technology, teaching patrons how to use both effectively, and expanding the heritage tools offered, libraries can help the past come alive for people of all ages who want to make history personal.

If you have never tackled genealogy or heritage programming in your professional life before, starting from scratch can seem daunting. How do I help people from such different walks of life with various levels of skill and often complex problems? Fear not! Technology has come a very long way in making it much easier to take on genealogy programming.


The Benefits of Makerspaces in School Libraries’

On Nov. 5, 2019, Corilee Christou looked at how makerspaces have enriched school libraries and how their impact can be measured. She writes:

In some instances in which school libraries and librarians have been eliminated, they have been replaced with a makerspace staffed by an aide—either because of budgetary constraints or, even more problematically, because of a lack of understanding of the roles the library and the librarian play in successfully supporting students.

A makerspace combined with a credentialed librarian can be an invaluable resource for both teachers and students, particularly if the teachers and librarians collaborate to provide tools in the makerspace that support the curriculum. Imagine the benefit to the learning process if a teacher and a makerspace librarian work together. For example, while the teacher is conducting classes on electricity, the makerspace librarian is showcasing a hands-on area focused on making circuits. …

Cathi Fuhrman, current president of the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association (PSLA) and the library department supervisor for the Hempfield School District in Lancaster County, Pa., has been working in the district since 1994. She says, “The school library has always been a place of exploration and free choice for students as well as project-based learning.” As such, having a makerspace in the school library means that all students get an area to learn and “to experience STEM and creative problem-solving activities.”


‘A Librarian's Guide to Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Awareness’

On Oct. 8, 2019, Anthony Aycock detailed the ways librarians can be at the forefront of facilitating mental health discussions through collections, public services, and more. He writes:

In 2010, Matthew Boylan was handling telephone reference with the New York Public Library when he received a harrowing call. It was from a police officer, who told Boylan that a 16-year-old girl was threatening to jump from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Her only identification? A library card. The officer wanted Boylan to use this card to look up the girl’s name, address, and parental contact information.

Not every librarian will be in the position of helping stop a suicide like Boylan: He gave the officer the information, and the girl survived. And yet, with suicide attempts on the rise, especially for teenagers—among this age group, rates of suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts in some cases more than doubled from 2008 to 2017, and depression increased by more than 60% for ages 14–17 from 2009 to 2017—most of us have served people who have considered killing themselves or have tried to.

As with other at-risk populations, offering useful materials can be tricky. One way is through research guides that are specific to suicide (rather than general mental health guides). …

It’s helpful to have a written policy on handling this type of patron. The New York Public Library developed such a policy after Matthew Boylan’s experience. Moreover, libraries should invest in crisis response training for public service staffers. Some libraries employ social workers or mental health professionals to step in when needed.

If specialized staffing or training isn’t possible, librarians should take time to become experts—not familiar with, but experts—in referring patrons to the right U.S. government agencies and social services organizations.


‘Technology and Creativity Collide at Tulsa City-County Library’

Digital Literacy Lab at Tulsa City-County LibraryOn Sept. 10, 2019, Brandi Scardilli detailed her interview with librarians at Tulsa City-County Library about their Digital Literacy Lab. She writes:

I spoke with Kimberly Johnson (the library’s CEO) and Kiley Roberson (the library’s chief strategy officer) to learn about the lab and its most distinctive feature: flight simulators. … After completing an orientation session, customers can schedule time to visit the lab and use any of its equipment hardware, such as a green screen, GoPros and handheld video cameras, tablets, and a virtual reality computer; software, such as Adobe Creative Suite, iMovie, GarageBand, and Final Cut Pro X; and digitization tools for tasks such as scanning photos and converting VHS tapes, cassette tapes, vinyl records, and film reels into digital files. …

Roberson says, “The equipment is pretty easy to figure out once you’ve gone through the orientation, but some of the software, like Adobe Creative Suite, [has] a lot of different elements to it, so we do have our coordinator who’s stationed in that area, and when the lab is open, people can come in and use the equipment as needed. She’s available to answer any questions and work with them if somebody has something that comes up.”

Johnson adds that “customers want the option to be able to navigate the space on their own. And so what we’ve been working toward is how we create an environment where customers can feel confident, and have the confidence to navigate the equipment on their own, or if they want support, we’re there to support them as well. It’s embedded in our culture and how we provide services to the public.” …

The lab’s two flight simulators are extremely popular, Johnson says. “One of the things we wanted to do with the flight simulators is to really encourage STEM,” she notes. The planning team brainstormed how to add that element to the Digital Literacy Lab, looking for “a way that would bring in a diverse population of people, men and women. I think libraries tend to have more women and children in their buildings, but I think that’s changing now. Having flight simulators was one of the ideas that came up, and we thought we would go with it,” she says. “And it’s just flat-out fun.”


Libraries Are Increasing Usage by Going Fine-Free’

On Aug. 13, 2019, Corilee Christou profiled three library organizations that are at the forefront of the fine-free movement. She writes:

The Urban Libraries Council (ULC) … compiles a map of fine-free public libraries in the U.S. and Canada that is updated regularly. It currently includes 128 systems. …

[Curtis Rogers, ULC’s director of communications] explains ULC’s findings on the differing ways libraries are implementing fine-free programs, which are identified on its map: “Some libraries cease overdue fines on books, but still use them for DVDs, movies and other content. Some libraries have ceased overdue fines for youth materials, while others have done so for all patrons. Each community and each library is unique, and so the libraries’ fine policies are unique as well. Sometimes the policies are implemented on a temporary or trial basis. Several libraries have fine-free summers, or months.” …

Linda Devlin is the director of the Camden County Library System in New Jersey. The system serves 334,343 residents in 26 communities throughout the county. Devlin [says,] “We saw overdue fines as a barrier that was discouraging or preventing many residents from using the library, particularly vulnerable populations who would often benefit the most from our services. We realized that most of us had the financial means to pay library fines. However, others could make one mistake and be restricted from the use of library resources simply because they could not afford to pay their fines.” Devlin adds, “The Library eliminated overdue fines for items checked out on children’s cards in 2016 and saw an increase in borrowing and library use among children.” …

The Denver Public Library (DPL) is a good example of how fines may be implemented differently depending on the age group. DPL has “never charged late fees for seniors, and in 2008, the library stopped collecting fines for [children’s] materials, and in 2014 for young adult materials,” says Michelle Jeske, Denver city librarian.

Jeske elaborates on the impact of moving to a fine-free environment: “Our customers love the new fabulous fine free change, and they have told us so, via messages, comments and actions. As of April 1, 22% of customers who had fines forgiven have re-engaged with the library in some form—that’s 23,000 customers being welcomed back into our spaces.”


‘Skipping the Scary Parts: Secrets to a Successful Library Book Club’

In the July/August 2019 issue, Jessica Hilburn shares how she created a book club that works for her library and offers tips for others who want to do the same. She writes:

There are many different kinds of book clubs. Some rely more on a social aspect to keep people coming. Reading is nice and valued, but not essential to attendance. The book club simply acts as a reason to consistently keep up with one’s friends. Other book clubs are extremely serious. Entering the meeting room without having finished the book can be met with looks that harken more to a public execution than a friendly salon. The best book club is a mix of the two. …

Because my library is a small, rural institution with a limited budget, I knew that if I wanted to have a library book club, I could not purchase multiple copies of the same book every month. A great option for libraries that fit this description is the Book Club in a Bag program; however, this article is geared toward those who either do not have access to a program like that or want to try something a little different. I took inspiration from the extraordinary Dover Public Library’s B.Y.O.B. (Bring Your Own Book) Club in Dover, Ohio, and tweaked the specifics to fit my community.

Now, you may be thinking, if we are not all reading the same book, then what are we doing? Jess, this is madness! I promise, it is not. In the bring-your-own-book style, members read their own choices. In order to give this format some structure, I pick three possible themes, and members vote (eyes closed, hands up, to minimize social pressure) on which they would like to read for next month. To give everyone an out in case I happen to pick three things everyone hates, we can opt for doing a “book of choice” month when there is no theme at all. This situation has happened twice, and it was much less of a free-for-all than I was expecting.

While themes help tie us together, having the uninhibited freedom to read anything and share your thoughts on it is an exciting change of pace. By not forcing people to read things in which they have no interest, book club becomes much more accessible. Not everyone is able to read dense academic tomes or complicated literature, and just as many simply do not want to. Allowing members to choose their own books makes it so that a struggling reader can participate just as fully as a seasoned veteran.


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Brandi Scardilli is the editor of NewsBreaks and Information Today.

Email Brandi Scardilli

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