Introducing the WhoFi Program Planner

Program Planner is the program reporting tool for modern libraries

Easily Track Your Library’s Programs For Accurate Reporting

Libraries are adapting to meet changing community needs by connecting with patrons online and in-person. The Program Planner offers a replacement to cumbersome tallying methods.  It also helps libraries better understand their patrons to further improve their service.

What is Program Planner?

Program Planner is a reporting tool to help libraries understand their programming and better serve the community. It is an easy-to-use system to schedule programs and view insights - all in one place. This tool makes it easy to schedule, manage, and count attendance at all programs and events.

How does it work? 

Create one-time or recurring programs in your dashboard. Enter the program’s PLS type, category, platform, and other relevant information. After the program has taken place, enter attendee information.  Attendance information shows seamlessly through categorized, accurate reporting.

You can also account for views to recorded programs that are posted online later.  This new tool is designed to help libraries plan and monitor both their online and in person programming attendance.

What does Program Planner do for your library?

  • Helps libraries plan programs in advance for both online and in person events.  This helps to get a full view of the community calendar. 
  • Alleviates the need for hand-tallying and storing numbers on paper. 
  • Auto-generates reports for easy end-of-year reporting.  No more complicated spreadsheets and calculators - we do it for you!

The Program Planner reduces the burden of tracking, organizing, and identifying program specific effectiveness.  It also helps with stakeholder and board reporting.  The new feature also allows multiple users access to enter their department’s programming all in one place.  It also helps library directors articulate the community impact they are having through the programs being offered. This information helps libraries when it comes to advocacy efforts.

Interested in learning more about Program Planner?  Click here to schedule a demo.

 


Libraries Staying Connected To Patrons With Online and Outdoor Events

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, libraries continue to adapt and find creative ways to stay connected to their communities. From drive-in WiFi, grab and go book pickup, and modified services and programs, libraries are going above and beyond to meet the needs of patrons while staying connected online and outdoors. 

If your library has outdoor space or a local park area available (and recommended safety guidelines are followed) outdoor programming paired with an online component would be a great way to stay connected to patrons. Many programs that were previously held indoors can be moved outdoors (when weather appropriate) like storytime, art class, yoga, or crafting. These can also be streamed online to your social media channels just as they would be indoors. 

We’ve compiled some tips that can help your library plan for your outdoor and online programming. 

8 Tips For Successful Outdoor Programming 

  1. Plan Ahead

This may seem like a no-brainer, but along with your regular planning, brainstorm with some colleagues and ask, “What could go wrong?”

What will you do if participants don’t follow protocol? How will you handle participants who are exhibiting illness symptoms? Think about all the things that could happen and arm yourself with contingency plans.

  1. Do a practice run-through

Prepare your program as you would normally indoors and think through any adjustments that need to be made for an outdoor venue. Do you need a tent? Chairs? Tables? If you’re going to be recording and sharing to your social media channels plan who will record, upload, and do any promotion of the event. 

  1. Limit Registration

To ensure your outdoor program meets the legal gathering limits and you have enough room to social distance, require participants to register and place a limit on registration.

  1. Set Safety Guidelines

Make sure to clearly state your safety guidelines to inform patrons. If masks are required, have disposable masks on hand for those who forgot. You could even have printed out instructions for DIY at-home face masks so patrons can make their own at home. 

If social distancing measures will be in place, have clearly marked traffic areas, circles for seating, and signage explaining the guidelines. Having a visual reminder of where to sit and stand is helpful for everyone, especially the littlest patrons. Having a few hand sanitizer stations would be a good idea, too. 

  1. Provide Individual Supplies

If you’re hosting a craft activity, prepare individual supply kits ahead of time for each person. This way everyone gets what they need and can maintain social distancing.

  1. Test Your Setup

Make sure to give your program a run-through before the actual event. Since people will be spread out, consider using a microphone so you can be heard and test the audio. If you’re hosting a storytime, consider books with big pictures and words, or create big posterboards with the print out images from the book, or printouts for each family so they can follow along on their socially distanced seating area. 

  1. Communicate

As you start to promote your program make sure to communicate the guidelines and what patrons should expect. This helps attendees follow safety measures and feel safe.  Communicate the guidelines before and during the event. 

  1. Adjust as needed

As you offer more programs you’ll get a feel for the flow of things and what needs to be adjusted, what’s working, and how to move forward. This is uncharted territory so do what’s best for your library and patrons to make sure everyone has a good time and is safe. 

More Ideas To Stay Connected Through Outdoor Programming

Patrons are looking for new and fun things to do, especially families, so offering a safe way to stay connected online and outdoors helps strengthen your ties to the community. It's also a great way to promote your library's vast array of books. You could pair activities with available books and resources for additional learning and fun. Create book bundles for every age group related to the program you’re offering. 

  • Nature photography( presented by a staff amateur photographer)
  • Biking, presented by a local biking organization
  • Historic walking tours
  • Wildflower hikes
  • Host a gardening program – grow plants in little cups then plant them outside.
  • Have a nature crafts program.  
  • Host an “animals in winter” program. If possible share some of their furs and talk about hibernation.
  • Make a collage from things found in nature.
  • Host a program about recycling at the library. Promote your library’s recycling program and take it one step further this year. 
  • Host a program about a specific animal or season and offer a craft to coordinate with that theme

Even if you don’t offer any programs on outdoor recreation, you can still maintain lists of recommended websites that have helpful links to local parks and recreation groups or nearby outdoor attractions. These selections are great for locals looking for more information on their area and for visitors who want to enjoy the natural elements of your community.

WhoFi provides libraries with wireless session counts, for advocacy, operational improvements related to the patron experience, and for the annual PLS and state surveys. If you want to learn more about staying connected online and outdoors, or how libraries can use WiFi insights to improve patron services, schedule a demo to see how it all works.


How the time of day patrons use WiFi is changing

Free WiFi at public libraries is an often used resource for many patrons.  The pandemic is causing changes in how libraries operate and how patrons use library resources.  This post covers how the pandemic has caused changes in the times of day that Free WiFi at public libraries is utilized.  We show the WiFi usage times from before the pandemic in March of 2020.  We then further show how the times have changed throughout the year 2020.

The Data

WhoFi is a leading provider of Wireless Session Counts and other WiFi statistics for public libraries and community spaces.  The data shown represents WhoFi’s public library partners across 23 states.  Always on equipment like wireless routers, printers, and other always on devices were excluded from these statistics.  The samples were taken from specific weeks Sunday through Saturday during the course of 2020.

What Changed

Before Covid, the hours of noon to 6pm were over 50% of the total WiFi usage for the day.  Early evening and evening hours made up about 25-30% of the remaining WiFi usage.  Morning hours before noon represented only about 20-25% of the WiFi usage.  However, since the pandemic began and continuing until now, there is an increase in early morning hours WiFi usage.  There is also a decrease in later hours WiFi usage.  

Immediately following the March declaration of the pandemic, the noon to 6 pm hours dropped from 52% to only 42% of the total WiFi usage.  While the midnight to noon hours increased 10% and the 6 pm to midnight hours stayed flat.

By December, 9 months into the pandemic, the noon to 6pm time frame is back to being used roughly 50% of the time.  But the 6pm to midnight time frame now represents 20% of the usage, while the midnight to noon time frame represents 30% of the usage.  There was an immediate and also now persistent shift away from evening usage and into more morning WiFi usage for patrons at public libraries.

It’s important to note that during the April time period, total WiFi usage had dropped to almost 40% of their March numbers at public libraries.  By December, total WiFi usage at public libraries had recovered to roughly 70% of it’s previous usage.  However, this change in patterns remains. 

What is causing this

Seeing this change isn’t overly surprising.  Although each library system is different, libraries across the country have adapted to the pandemic in a variety of ways.  Many libraries have had their doors closed.  However, they have also increased their resources outside of the building.  For example they have increased WiFi speed and availability into parking lots as well as offering curbside checkout and pickups.

We don’t know exactly what is causing this shift in patron behavior.  Some stories are that due to e-learning, students and parents are utilizing library WiFi in the morning now.  This would include early morning book and activities pickups for remote learners and young children.  Some other possibilities are that with increases in unemployment, adults searching for jobs or filling out unemployment claims online are also morning WiFi users.  Further possibilities are that evening library usage often included night classes or social gatherings for students and patrons with day jobs.  Many of these patrons have WiFi at home.  As the night classes became virtual they no longer came into the building.  So they are no longer represented in the data.  Although it’s difficult to know for certain what has caused this shift, it is notable that this shift has occurred.

Conclusion

There has been an immediate and persistent shift in what times patrons utilize the WiFi at public libraries.  The immediate shift was towards heavier after hours usage in general.  The longer term shift is towards morning and early morning hours.  We'll continue to report on this and see this trend continues as libraries fully reopen in 2021 and beyond.


Curbside Books And Free WiFi

Libraries across the country continue to adapt services to meet patron needs. When the coronavirus took hold in March and public library buildings closed to the public, services continued in a new, modified format. Two of the most popular library services born out of this public health crisis are curbside pick-up programs and outside of the building WiFi use. 

Curbside programs offer patrons a way to access resources and materials. Libraries offering curbside pick-ups keeps books and other tangible resources in the hands of patrons. 

Free WiFi opens a digital door for patrons who need internet access - this includes everyone in the community. Among those needing access to wireless internet are people experiencing homelessness, who may have a phone but no data plan. Members of the community without home access, or limited access, rely on the library as their primary source of internet. In fact, research states that 73 percent of public libraries are the only provider of free internet access. These reasons are why curbside pick-up and free WiFi are two of the most popular public library services.

An Increasing Need For WiFi

Since March, schools have moved to online learning and many jobs are being done remotely. In addition, just about everything is done online now, including job applications, bill payment, social services applications, and staying in touch with loved ones. An internet connection is essential in today’s digital world. Equally as important is the need for human connection - something librarians provide patrons on a regular basis. With many public libraries still closed or operating at a limited capacity, librarians provide this through socially distanced services like curbside pick-ups and free WiFi outside of the building. 

Curbside Pickups 

Many libraries have adapted their book check-out process to accommodate health and safety guidelines and allow patrons to continue checking out books. Curbside pickups are a new popular way for libraries to get books into patrons’ hands. Patrons use their library account to reserve books and follow their local branch’s pick-up guidelines to get the book(s). Some libraries take it a step further and create book bundles for readers of all ages. Patrons can personalize their bundles based on age and interest or ask their friendly librarian to hand-pick some amazing books just for them. 

Libraries are offering more than just books in the curbside model, too. Office services like printing, copying, technology lending, and WiFi are also accessible from outside of the building. Check out more tips on how to boost library services while buildings are closed. 

Ebooks and Digital Services (WiFi)

Libraries across the country have seen increases in library card applications and digital content lending since March. Libraries are making it easier to apply for a library card online and access these digital resources. The Libby app makes it easy to check out ebooks, audiobooks, films, and music. Many libraries report seeing an increase in wireless sessions since the start of the pandemic. As reported in our COVID data, our partner libraries have regained 73% of their WiFi usage since March, on average. In conversations with our library partners, several have noted an increase in patrons accessing WiFi after hours and from the parking lot. The need for WiFi is clear. 

Can librarians combine these two popular services to further enhance patron experience? 

Yes, we think so! 

Cross-promote Library Services To Boost WiFi Usage

Research shows that library programs and advocacy efforts directly impact communities and economies in a positive way. By investing in libraries and free public WiFi, communities can help patrons which translates to community wellness. In addition to reporting WiFi usage for the PLS report, libraries can continue to prove the value of WiFi by increasing usage rates. 

Patrons may not know about the library WiFi, or if they do may not realize it’s accessible from the parking lot and can be used at any time. When patrons come to pick up their curbside orders, be sure to have signage clearly stating that WiFi is available and how to use it. Encourage patrons to access the WiFi while they wait for their orders to be delivered to the car. Include printouts about the free WiFi with all curbside orders. 

Informing and reminding patrons about free WiFi available outside the building, while they wait for their curbside order, can help increase the numbers for WiFi use. Ultimately, the goal of the library is to provide a needed service to the community. Free WiFi is a service many community members need. Librarians can help community members by promoting these two popular library services.

WhoFi provides libraries with wireless session counts, for advocacy, operational improvements related to the patron experience, and for the annual PLS and state surveys. To learn more about how libraries can use WiFi insights to improve patron services, schedule a demo to see how it all works.

 


Providing Free WiFi In Public Libraries Improves Communities

Internet access is considered a platform in which an individual can access the tools and skills necessary to improve their lives, participate in the economy, and access government. The possibility to connect to the Internet has been recognized in a number of countries as a human right, or at least as a core public interest utility. In this information and digital age, access to this digital economy is key for a person to survive and thrive. Yet millions of Americans lack internet access. This fact is a key reason why it’s important that public libraries provide free WiFi to communities.

The public library’s role is to bridge the digital divide and create strong economies, communities.

Libraries have always played a critical role in giving citizens access to information. Intellectual freedom is a core concept and value of public libraries. In the age of information, libraries play a critical role in the community by providing access to online information.

Libraries are a smart investment.

People who use library WiFi as their primary source of internet rely on it for personal and professional reasons including: 

  • Access or apply for government benefits
  • Get information from or about local government
  • Do school work for homeschooling curriculums or online learning platforms (per necessity in a recent pandemic)
  • Apply to college or trade schools
  • Apply for education financial aid
  • Take online courses
  • Search for jobs
  • Complete online job applications
  • Create an online resume 
  • Correspond with potential employers and hiring managers during the interview and hiring process
  • Complete employment exams
  • Take online job training courses
  • Access social media
  • Get health or medical information
  • Communicate with their medical team through secure medical portals: pay bills, schedule appointments, ask questions, and get answers. 
  • Attend an online class, meeting, or webinar
  • Find legal or consumer rights information
  • Stay in touch with friends or family
  • Read or send email
  • Research and buy a product
  • Use online banking services or pay bills
  • Participate in the eCommerce community as a buyer or seller
  • Create or post original media
  • Look for answers to computer problems
  • Arrange transportation
  • Research a new skill
  • Learning language (programs or watching videos)

In short, residents without Internet access are at a huge disadvantage. Libraries have accepted the challenge of providing internet access within their buildings to narrow the digital divide. Public access computers and Wi-Fi offered in library locations is the first line of assistance to the community. 

Local businesses, governments, and individuals benefit from internet access

Hudson Institute released “The Economic Impact of Rural Broadbandreport. From that, here are ways individuals and businesses are actually impacted by internet access and how that contributes to local economic growth. For the purposes of this blog, we assume individuals are accessing the internet provided by the library and this is their primary or only source of internet. 

  • Brings local business to the global market with online eCommerce and social media sites like Shopify, eBay, Etsy, Pinterest, and Facebook marketplace, as well as a host of websites and blogging platforms. 
  • Connect to global businesses. If someone lives hours away from the nearest big box store or needs to order materials, this can easily be done using free library WiFi.
  • Educational opportunities from homeschool to a college education. People who live hours from campus can complete courses online. Nearly 1 in 5 teens can’t finish homework because of lack of internet 
  • Health care and telemedicine. Patients can view online medical records, make payments, schedule appointments, and email or chat through a secure medical portal. 
  • Enhance a sense of well-being and stay connected with family and friends through communications made possible by internet access. 
  • As many newspapers move to a digital model, people can stay updated with local, national, and global news. 
  • Increases opportunities for remote work and patrons can use library WiFi and space as a remote workstation. 
  • Improves economic and education outcomes for area youth with access to online learning and skill improvements. Combined with the skill classes provided by the library, anyone can do anything. 
  • Farmers and ranchers can conduct business online and have an easier time bringing their products to market and complying with regulations. 
  • Access e-government services like paying taxes, applying for Medicare or Medicaid, or disaster relief.

With institutional power and data to back up advocacy efforts, public libraries are well equipped to fulfill the role of an internet provider for many communities.  By investing in libraries and free public WiFi, communities can embrace the human capital theory to create stronger local economies and connected communities. Internet access is important for basic services, education, and employment. Above all, it gives people the ability to improve their personal station and by doing so contributes to community wellness.

WhoFi provides libraries with wireless session counts, for advocacy, operational improvements related to the patron experience, and for the annual PLS and state surveys. To learn more about how libraries can use WiFi insights to improve patron services, schedule a demo to see how it all works. 


The Economic Impact Of WiFi Connection

Providing free WiFi in public libraries improves communities. Internet should be viewed as an investment, not a cost, to public institutions. This blog explores the theories that support these statements and outlines the research that proves the economic impact of a WiFi connection. 

More than 200 hundred years ago, Adam Smith stated that “the wealth of nations included the acquired and useful abilities of all the inhabitants or members of the society.” Acquired abilities that are useful for production is a type of capital realized in that person. He said that wealth is the stream of goods and services that a person or group controls or creates. Capital is “that which can create revenue now or in the future.” Outside of tangible items like land or machinery, acquired skills and abilities that are useful for production is a type of capital an individual can hold. The basic concept is that investments in individuals through education can be measured based on the economic value they contribute to society using acquired skills.

In the 1960s, Theodore Schultz introduced an economic research agenda that included the study of human capital. His findings were that ‘costs’ of education and training were actually investments that provided future income flows. Since then, human capital means investments in people that provide economic benefits.

How does this theory relate to WiFi access?

Access to education is related to access to internet access and WiFi. This is especially true in COVID times when many schools are doing remote learning instead of, or in conjunction with, in-person classes. In addition to education, the percentage of jobs that require technology skills (which often require the internet to obtain) or are done primarily through the internet, is increasing. 

According to the Brookings Research Institute, the percentage of jobs that require technology skills (which require the internet to obtain) or are done primarily through the internet, are increasing. 

Jobs that had low digital skills requirements have decreased by almost 50%. Jobs with medium digital skills requirements have increased by 20%. And jobs with high digital skills requirements have increased by 360%. If this trend continues, high digital requirements jobs will replace low digital skills requirements jobs over the next decade. Also, there are certain skills that are technology-related that are primarily learned through access to the internet.

The chart below shows the percent of jobs that require digital skills on top of just access to the internet.

Education is the mechanism that gives an individual the personal ‘capital’ to be able to get a job in today’s digital world. And access to education is tied to internet access. 

But, equal access for everyone isn’t the case for 24 million Americans with no internet access. Lack of access is more pronounced in rural areas. In efforts to promote digital inclusion, the public library’s role is to bridge the digital divide and create strong economies, communities by offering WiFi at their locations.

The ROI of public libraries in their communities.

Research shows that library programs and advocacy efforts directly impact communities and economies in a positive way. This supports the human capital theory and proves that investing in individuals (via access to the internet, thus education), provides a positive ROI for the community. 

For every dollar of direct spending on operations payroll, libraries generate $0.53 in additional spending in the economy of Minnesota. In the same way, for every dollar of direct spending on operations services, libraries generate $0.74 in additional spending in Minnesota's economy. Another recent study shows that for every dollar invested in Ohio public libraries, Ohioans received $5.48 in economic value. 

By investing in libraries and free public WiFi, communities can adopt the digital human capital theory to create stronger local economies and connected communities. Internet access is important for basic services, education, and employment. Internet access gives people the ability to improve their personal station and by doing so contributes to community wellness.

WhoFi provides libraries with wireless session counts, for advocacy, operational improvements related to the patron experience, and for the annual PLS and state surveys. To learn more about how libraries can use WiFi insights to improve patron services, schedule a demo to see how it all works. 


Q3 Effects of COVID-19 on Public Library WiFi Use

WhoFi analyzed data from our library partners to determine the effect of COVID-19 on patron WiFi usage. This report includes our findings during Q3.

We’re now seven months into the COVID pandemic, and public libraries continue to adapt to this new normal by reinventing their services to meet the current needs of their communities. These new innovations are taking place across the country. Libraries are bolstering their online collections and expanding access, enhancing access to public WiFi, making it easier to get a library card, starting and adding to their virtual programming, adding outdoor programming, offering curbside pick-up, and curated book bags, to name a few.

This new reality created an environment for public libraries to rethink and improve how they serve communities. In many cases, libraries have migrated their in-person programming to the digital space. The flexibility of online programming is helping libraries reach additional community members. For some programs, this has resulted in increased attendance since patrons can attend storytime or participate in a seminar at their convenience and without concern for building capacity.

Many library buildings have reopened, but are operating at a limited capacity in accordance with safety guidelines. Services like grab-and-go, limited computer use, and printing/scanning/faxing are available inside the building, while other programming and outreach remain online. Libraries are providing more online resources (e-books, e-magazines, database access), virtual programming (storytime, craft sessions, etc), and WiFi access. In our library partners’ opinions, these services will continue in the future even after COVID. New demands such as video conferencing and e-learning make having high-speed internet vital to meet the changing needs of both the library and the community it serves.

As the new school year begins and many students are attending online classes, how has COVID affected library WiFi use in Q3?

Our data shows that after the initial drop in WiFi usage in March, trends steadied and then began to rise around April 26. In fact, there continues to be a steady increase in WiFi usage nationwide across cities and towns of all population sizes. Library efforts to enhance and extend WiFi services, paired with a solid communication plan, seem to have the desired effect of helping patrons stay connected. The total number of visits, however, isn’t as high as it was prior to shut-downs, but shows continued use despite building closures. The graph below shows WiFi usage trends from March through September.

The national WiFi usage rates were down 70% in April from the average of previous months usage rates. This has been the biggest recorded drop in WiFi use during the pandemic. By the end of June, the national WiFi usage rates had increased 40%, and have had another 35% increase from June to September. As you can see in the graph above, while there continues to be a steady climb in WiFi usage, the overall usage is still lower than it was in March. At the end of Q3, national WiFi usage in public libraries is now at 73% of what it was in March. A steady climb in usage is indicative of the community need while more people are working and going to school remotely.

Patrons in rural service areas often rely on the public library as their main source of internet. How can libraries improve the patron experience by improving digital services?

In our first report, we analyzed data by comparing urban and rural service areas to determine if there was a difference in WiFi usage across the population sizes. Our data showed that rural service areas have a higher percentage of the population that uses the library WiFi and showed more stable usage patterns since March. Why do patrons in rural service areas use the library WiFi more than those in urban areas? There’s a variety of cultural, social, and economic factors that contribute to this gap in internet access.

Public libraries are already considered an anchor institution that provides the internet to the community. How can libraries use their WiFi insights to advocate for enriched services? By using data to support stories. The FCC’s E-Rate funding is one solution to help bridge the gap. The IMLS is distributing $30 million in funding to libraries across the U.S. as part of the CARES Act in response to the impact of COVID-19. States will be able to use the funds to expand digital network access, purchase internet accessible devices, and provide technical support services to citizens to address digital inclusion efforts. Rural schools and libraries may also receive more funds to get the internet. The graph below shows the more stable WiFi usage rates of rural population areas compared to urban counterparts.

Breakdown of WiFi usage rates by service population size.

The graph above shows the WiFi usage rates of each population size from March to September. The most drastic change in usage rates was in the 100,000-1,000,000 population size group, which has only regained about two-thirds of its previous WiFi usage rates. Another interesting metric is the 1-2,500 and 2,500 -7,500 population size groups, which both have now regained nearly all of their previous WiFi usage rates. Smaller population areas have also recovered a higher percentage of WiFi use compared with numbers from March. See the chart below.

Libraries are important to communities, especially in times of crisis.

After speaking with our library partners, it’s clear these adapted library services are here to stay, even after COVID. The COVID crisis has opened doors for new ways of connecting communities and enhancing library
services. High-speed internet will be necessary to continue to create and distribute online programming and meet community needs for WiFi used for work, school, and personal purposes.

What’s been created out of this crisis can’t replace how libraries operated previously, nor should it. Retaining offerings of shared community space is valuable, and in-person gatherings is something people want even more
now. When adapted services are done in combination with traditional methods, everyone wins.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, lack of internet access was a big problem. Now, it’s critical. Public libraries are on the front lines of this problem helping patrons stay connected to school, work, and family. They’ve
also been important for social services such as filing for unemployment and completing the census which requires a connection to the internet. The data is clear: WiFi is a valuable resource the libraries offer. Tracking this could prove to be beneficial for library advocacy efforts, operational improvements, strategic planning, and accurate reporting for the PLS survey.

Contact us for more information or to book a demo. 


9 Community Engagement Ideas for Public Libraries During COVID-19

This year has been challenging for public libraries and communities. Libraries were tasked with managing shutdowns while recreating their programming and services for an online space. Fortunately, libraries were well-equipped to manage the changes and meet community needs. Communities need their libraries more than ever. Public libraries are essential during these challenging times. Are you looking for ways your library can expand community engagement?  Here is a shortlist of ideas to enhance public library community engagement.

#1. Amplify Curbside Services

Many public libraries are offering curbside pick-up services as a way to continue book loaning service. Patrons can use their library account to reserve books and follow their library’s curbside pick-up guidelines once the hold has arrived. And to replace in-person browsing, some libraries will select books for you or your child based on age, interest, and topic of choice. 

Curbside isn’t just for books. Libraries are offering curbside office services like printing, copying, faxing, laptop lending, and mobile hotspot check-outs. 

It’s also a great way to offer other materials the library offers – like children’s crafts or DVDs. Some libraries are pre-packing children’s crafts and activities that would normally be offered during a program and making them available for pick-up. Others are circulating DVDs by creating themed movie night packs that include DVDs and popcorn. 

Take the opportunity to cross-promote your library’s other services each time a patron picks up an item from your library. Create hand-outs that outline your services and include a calendar of online events. For example, if a parent picks up a themed book bundle, be sure to include information about early literacy take-home kits, or information about virtual storytimes. Curbside service is a top pick for many locations that want to enhance public library community engagement.

#2. Boost Online Programming

Prior to the pandemic, libraries offered a variety of in-person classes ranging from baby and me playtime, yoga classes, exercise classes, gardening tutorials, author events, or music classes. Many of these can be recreated for the virtual format. The class teacher can host a live program using Facebook Live or Zoom, and post the recording to the library’s YouTube page so patrons can participate at any time. 

To boost your online programming options, ask yourself these questions to generate new ideas or think of ways to recreate patron favorites for the digital space. 

  • What programs have been the most popular in the past?
  • How can these be adapted for the online space?
  • Can you invite yoga teachers to host online classes?
  • What are some new concerns your community members might have right now? How can you best help them with these? Some examples are filing for unemployment or online job search. 
  • How can you collaborate with other community groups to cross-promote your services? 

Ideas for popular virtual programs include:

  • Toddler/preschool storytime 
  • Toddler/preschool music class
  • Storytime dance parties
  • Baby playtime 
  • Simple at-home STEM experiments
  • Teen and adult book clubs
  • Teen trivia night
  • Self-care courses led by mental health professionals
  • DIY face mask tutorial 
  • DIY gardening
  • Local artist performances
  • Keep kids safe online courses
  • How to identify and combat misinformation courses

Virtual programming can be combined with curbside pick-up packets to replicate the library experience as much as possible. For example, baby playtime is beneficial because babies can interact in person with other babies and adults. And it’s beneficial for the parents, too, as the library teacher provides gentle instruction on activities to facilitate brain growth. So in this scenario, the library would package materials for parents to pick up then they can tune into the virtual library instruction. Librarians can complement virtual programming with circulating early literacy materials, math games, book bundles, themed take-and-make-kits, and also create visual boards with activities for people to do at home.

#3. Expand Digital Content

As part of the online programming efforts, libraries are letting patrons know the digital content available to them.  Here are a few ideas. 

  • Promote digital content available to patrons with their library card. For example, apps or websites they can access with their cards like language learning sites, genealogy sites, and library databases. 
  • Provide library card sign-ups for access to remote resources.
  • Provide references services via email, phone, and chat.

#4. Create Curated Content for Patrons

Think about your patrons' current needs. The library has the information and resources, so how can you package that material into something easily accessible? Librarians have so much knowledge about what the library has available for patron use, so simply finding it and presenting it together is immensely helpful for the community. Curated content is certainly a way to enhance public library community engagement because it shows that your library is listening. 

Some examples of types of content in which patrons are interested: 

  • Articles, podcasts, or other pieces of information about creating an engaging home learning space, ways to help kids with online learning, and the like. 
  • Books, stories, and articles about building resilience and getting through hard times.  
  • Information about dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression and resources to seek help. 
  • Articles and resources for job seekers and those looking to learn a new skill.
  • Literature about the history of viruses or something with an interesting scientific angle. 
  • Easy read novels that provide a constructive way to manage stress and mental break. 
  • Hand-picked children’s books to help them understand and overcome difficult times. 
  • Books and resources about home learning for preschool children, since many parents may be doing more child care if group care is unavailable. 

#5. Recreate Physical Spaces and Services for Digital

Prior to shutdowns, libraries offered free meeting spaces for individual and group use. A remote worker could use the space to work, or a group of workers, volunteers, or anyone who needed to gather could use a meeting room. Some rooms were equipped with AV technology for presentations. So now since patrons can’t use the library in this way, some libraries are adapting the meeting rooms online using Zoom. Patrons can reserve a room for a certain amount of time in the same way they would for in-person use. In addition, libraries can make office services like printing, faxing, and copying available with curbside pick-up. And laptops and hotspots can be available for check out with a library card. 

#6. Bridge the Digital Divide

Libraries have long been at the forefront of the efforts to bridge the digital divide. Their accessible-to-all technology and free WiFi are a mainstay for many patrons, many of whom rely on the library as their primary source of internet. Now in the coronavirus times, access to the internet is even more critical. Here are some ways to continue the effort toward digital equality and enhance your public library community engagement. 

  • Keep the library WiFi on 24/7 (per ALA recommendation).
  • Promote that your free WiFi service is available and explain how patrons can use it. 
  • Leave instructions on how to connect to the WiFi in the windows or signs visible outside.
  • Purchase wireless hotspots for library staff who don’t have access at home and patrons to check out. 
  • Miss your library regulars? Reach out via phone or email and encourage them to connect with you on social media.
  • Think about other places in the community where you can promote your free WiFi and other library services (schools, homeless shelters, women’s shelters, crisis centers, community centers, health clinics.) 
  • Include information about technology and WiFi services in all other materials and online (your website, social media, curbside checkouts.) 

#7. Help With Internet Skills

Use web recording tools like Loom or Zoom to record tutorials on how to apply for unemployment, order online groceries, or other internet tasks that many people may be unfamiliar with. Providing these services and help is something library staff would ordinarily do in person, using the library’s computers, but now patrons are at home. 

#8. Communicate that the library is an essential service

  • Determine how the library can promote remote services best to your community.
  • Use alternative methods to promote these services to patrons who aren’t already connected. If someone doesn’t have access to the internet at home, it’ll be difficult for online communications to be received. So work with community groups to help get the word out about free library WiFi, hot spot loans, loaning technology, and whatever other services you’re offering. Or even post signs in the library windows. 
  • Reach out to your local news outlets to have your library featured.

#9. Librarian professional development

  • Seek out and participate in professional development. Some librarians are learning a new skill, such as video editing, which can be useful now and in the future.
  • Librarians can also connect with colleagues through association groups, connect with other community leaders, support legislative advocacy, and share what’s working for your libraries with other locations. 
  • Consider submitting a blog or article to an industry publication to share your ideas, insights, and experiences. 

WhoFi helps real-world spaces understand and engage with their patrons within the building and beyond. Would you like to learn more about how WhoFi partners with public libraries? Schedule a demo today.


Navigating the Changing Landscape of Public Library Programming During COVID-19

Libraries across the country are stepping up in a time of crisis. As we continue to adapt to this new (ab)normal reality, libraries shift their programming model to reach beyond their physical buildings and provide essential services for their communities. How are librarians navigating the changing landscape of public library programming during COVID-19?

Innovation during times of crisis can lead to lasting positive change for public library programming.

Librarians are innovating new ways to stay connected and serve the community by adapting in-person programming to outdoor events, curbside projects, or online programs. Using a mix of social media platforms, such as Facebook (live and stories), Instagram, Zoom, and YouTube, public libraries are able to provide a wide range of programming. 

Community programs like children’s storytime, summer camps, and craft time have moved online for socially distanced access. Instead of in-person interaction, librarians are reading books, demonstrating crafts, or leading tutorials online. Other library services have changed too. Pre-COVID we could enjoy the library space as just a place to go and be in an enriching environment, whether there was a planned program or drop-in visit. Often parents would leave with a few books the kids selected, or a craft that the children’s librarians lovingly prepared. 

Now, that thoughtfulness and care continue, just in a socially distanced way. Parents can request a book bundle for grab-and-go or curbside pick-up, specially selected by local librarians based on your child’s age and interest. Take-home craft projects can be picked up grab-and-go style or curbside pick-up. Librarians are recording themselves teaching parents how to recreate the library children’s programming from their own homes.

We’re all finding ways to stay connected while being physically apart. And the result has been positive. 

The demand for digital content has soared since the pandemic began. More patrons are attending online programming. The feedback has been good and these services will likely stick around to make the library more accessible to more people.

Public libraries provide essential services in a time of uncertainty. 

One of the key missions of public libraries is to provide services to all communities, regardless of background or socioeconomic status. 

All are welcome here. 

During times of crisis and upheaval, the community relies on the library even more. The need for information and digital access are even greater. Americans already consider libraries essential to communities. People see libraries as a safe space, a source of educational opportunity, a source of trusted information, as well as a place to ignite creativity and curiosity in youth. 

A recent report from NPR states that since shutdowns began in March, the use of library services increased dramatically. Digital book loans have skyrocketed particularly children’s e-books. Many libraries made online library card applications available and expanded access to e-books, databases, and e-resources. Since buildings were closed to the public, libraries extended their WiFi signals and offered ‘drive-up’ WiFi so patrons can still use their internet from a safe, socially distanced space. 

Many people in communities turn to the library for guidance and help with online tasks that they’re unfamiliar with, or need to borrow the library computer and internet connection to complete. Things like filing for unemployment, seeking government services, applying for a job, and basic internet skills are all areas in which a librarian would otherwise help a patron in person. Now, librarians are using web recording tools to record tutorials or talking patrons through the process via the phone. Library staff will do whatever it takes to help people. 

Libraries offer a sense of normalcy in abnormal times.

When COVID forced libraries to close, library staff knew they wanted to establish a positive digital space for people to gather and continue to enjoy the programs they love. For many individuals and families, the library was part of their regular routine. So having a continuation of this in some way is beneficial. The public library programming during COVID-19 has been effective because people can still benefit from the community the library provides even while spending more time at home. Based on our discussions with library partners and observation, these library adaptations have been successful in meeting the community's needs, providing a much-needed mainstay in these uncertain times. 

WhoFi helps real-world spaces understand and engage with their patrons within the building and beyond. Would you like to learn more about how WhoFi partners with public libraries? Schedule a demo today. 


Libraries Can Improve Patron Experience By Expanding Digital Services Using E-Rate Funding

According to FCC reports, 24 million people in the U.S. lack broadband internet access. In the coronavirus times, the need for internet access is more important than ever. So how can libraries maximize their resources to improve the patron experience? The FCC’s E-Rate funding is one solution.

The E-Rate program makes telecommunications and information services more affordable for schools and libraries. The ongoing proliferation of innovative digital learning technologies and the need to connect students, teachers, and workers to jobs, education, social services, and information has led to increased demand for bandwidth. 

COVID-19 and expanding digital services using E-rate funding for libraries

The IMLS is distributing $30 milling in funding to libraries across the U.S. as part of the CARES Act in response to the impact of COVID-19. States will be able to use the funds to expand digital network access, purchase internet accessible devices, and provide technical support services to citizens to address digital inclusion efforts. Rural schools and libraries may also receive more funds to get the internet. It’s worth noting that rural service areas have the highest percentage patron use of library WiFi, according to our national data

How can WiFi insights support your library’s need for E-Rate funding? 

Our library partners use WiFi analytics as a way to accurately count WiFi sessions, both for PLS reporting and internal library advocacy.  They’ve also used the insights for program selection and layout changes.  

Now due to COVID-19, libraries are adjusting how they serve patrons.  Many libraries made WiFi accessible 24/7, which was later an official recommendation from the ALA. This was a smart move and allowed our partner libraries to understand how their patrons were using the service. WiFi analytics showed there was continued activity even though libraries were closed to the public. What this told us was that patrons still needed to use the library for WiFi access. But now instead of being inside the building they were sitting outside, in the parking lot, and using after hours. Understanding how and when patrons are using a service is key to making sure libraries are equipped to continue and expand this service. 

What can we learn from WiFi insights in the time of coronavirus? 

Let’s start with what we know. We know that patrons are continuing to use library WiFi services. We know there is an increased demand for internet access since many schools and jobs have moved online. We know that millions of Americans lack sufficient internet at home. And we know that the library is often their primary source of internet. 

According to a Public Library Association (PLA) survey, 98% of respondents reported their buildings were closed to the public but staff continued to expand digital products and launch virtual programs. Creative ideas keep communities connected – like offering “drive-in WiFi”, expanding digital access, moving adult and children’s programming to an online format, and offering all kinds of digital resources. It seems like this will be the norm for the foreseeable future, so libraries need the bandwidth to support the increased patron need and their own programming. This is how E-Rate funding can help libraries improve the patron experience. 

How to apply for E-rate funding for libraries

Applying for E-rate funding can seem complicated, especially if it’s your first experience with the application process. If you’re a public library applying for E-rate funding, here’s what you need to know about the application process. 

Who runs the E-rate funding program? 

According to the FCC website, the E-rate program is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company under the direction of the FCC. USAC is responsible for processing the applications for support, confirming eligibility, and reimbursing service providers and eligible schools and libraries for the discounted services. USAC also ensures that the applicants and service providers comply with the E-rate rules and procedures established by the Commission.

Where do I fill out the E-rate funding application for my library?

The USAC website has a step-by-step guide to follow. It also outlines the process for applicants and providers so you have a full understanding of how the system works. On the USAC website, there is a ‘Get Started’ web page that details your next steps. You will need to set up an account on the E-rate Productivity Center (EPC) to fill out your application through this application management portal. There are also E-rate consultants that can help you apply for funding such as Funds for Learning that can help guide you through the process as well.

How does a library WiFi strategy help with planning for the post-COVID future?

Creating and implementing systems to meet community needs during a crisis will carry forward in positive ways in the future. Public libraries will be even more well-positioned to lead the way in bridging the digital divide. Libraries will have a game plan for the next crisis and the tools necessary to respond quickly.  Public libraries will continue to provide a valuable and necessary service to everyone by being thought leaders, community advocates, and coming up with creative solutions. 

Want to know more about WiFi insights for your library? Book a demo today!