Pandemic Perspectives: Navigating Changes and Connections at the Connecticut Library Consortium
Amanda Stern is the events and special projects manager at the Connecticut Library Consortium, a statewide membership collaborative serving all types of Connecticut libraries by helping them strengthen their ability to serve their users. Amanda has a background in public relations and has served as a school librarian and a children’s librarian. We caught up with Amanda to ask her about her experiences.
The following are excerpts from our interview, edited for length and clarity.
How has the pandemic affected the way you see the future of libraries?
The pandemic has proven how resilient, creative, and responsive librarians and library staff are. It was amazing to see how libraries met the needs of their community by implementing valuable new programs and services. Where would we have been this past year without curbside pickup, virtual programs, reference chat, and free Wi-Fi access?
The pandemic also highlighted the flexibility of school librarians, specifically. Many of my school colleagues saw profound shifts in their job functions as they supported remote learners and teachers, provided technology integration skills and expertise in new and unique ways, and in many cases redeploying into the classroom. In an era where school librarian positions are being eliminated in many communities, the past year and a half really showed us how valuable and needed school librarians are to the educational health of students.
How has the pandemic changed the work that you do?
Like everyone else, my work shifted in March of 2020. We canceled all of our in-person programming on March 12. Three days into working remotely, I felt the need for community, and knew that virtual meetings would be essential. Between March – December 2020, we held 150 meetings that brought together more than 4,770 Connecticut librarians, which is a 126% increase in attendance from the same period the year before.
We had community meetings that served as points for information and research sharing, building and maintaining connections, and—in some instances—kept library staff on payroll. During these meetings, I met librarians I’ve never seen and built relationships that have become increasingly important as the pandemic continued.
The pandemic also gave us an excuse to explore new ideas. We introduced virtual vendor expos, hosted virtual cocktail parties, and tried our hand at collaborative programming by providing public programming and marketing tools to libraries.
Having to shift the way we work made us brave, and our community has been so supportive during all of the transitions; they’ve forgiven technology mishaps and unpolished appearances and given me the encouragement I needed to continue to show up and keep working. My confidence and creativity have grown in leaps and bounds and now my only question is, “How can we make [insert new idea] happen?”
What are some of the positive changes that have been made in your workplace?
Our team has become more flexible. Moving to all remote work—and now into a hybrid model—has helped us better understand what we need to be successful. We’re more nimble and more willing to take risks than we were pre-pandemic.
I think some of our virtual meetings will stick around long into the future, even when in-person becomes more of a possibility—it’s such a convenient way to gather with our colleagues from across the state, and it makes our meetings so much more accessible, especially for smaller libraries and those with staffing constraints.
What do you miss most about your "pre-pandemic" work life?
I miss people! Pre-pandemic I traveled to library events about 30% of my time, and as valuable as Zoom is, there is no substitute for the magic that happens when I’m in the same space as colleagues.
What do you see as being the biggest impact on your members?
I’m concerned about the mental health impact on our entire library community. Libraries for years have had to do more with less, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this. Staffing shortages in libraries and declining resources put a lot of pressure on library staff.
What have you learned from the pandemic that you're applying to your work?
I’ve learned how to differentiate between what is nice to have and do, and what is essential. Like many of my librarian colleagues, I err on the side of overachiever; I often want to do all the things and I want to do all of them well! Understanding the difference between what is essential to our mission and what’s a “nice extra” has helped me better manage my time and resources and deliver the outcomes that my community really needs.
What was the biggest challenge for your job during the pandemic?
The many Zoom meetings. As time went on, I saw a significant decline in how many people met with their cameras on, and how many people came to our virtual events. With all the competition for attention, it became hard to keep capturing an audience. We had to keep doing more, innovating more, and becoming better. When all is said and done, every librarian I know will need a very long nap!
What do you hope the next year will look like?
I hope next year we can find our balance between virtual and in person working and gathering. I’m so grateful for the technology that has kept our community together, but I’m eagerly looking forward to feeling safe enough to gather physically again.
I also hope we can build on the momentum that was built during the pandemic and keep innovating where innovation is needed.
And I hope our libraries will continue to see an outpouring of support for all the services and programs they provide for their communities, including financial support for building infrastructure projects, collections, and programs.
Photos courtesy: Amanda Stern
Libraries and museums are innovative community centers, and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been essential to the community and national response.
Want to learn more?
More resources are available through the REALM project website.
This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, project number: ODIS-246644-ODIS-20.