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.