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.