Recap: Libraries and the COVID-19 Crisis, OCLC Virtual Town Hall

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The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the personal and professional lives of library staff everywhere. As libraries respond to rapidly evolving information and guidelines, building closures, and loss of resources, staff are turning to new, virtual ways to connect with and support patrons and colleagues. On 13 April, an OCLC virtual town hall explored these issues with four guest panelists from public, academic, special, and school libraries who shared their experiences with the shifting landscape, discussing how libraries are moving services, programming, and learning online. More than 2,100 people attended the town hall, with numerous attendees sharing experiences and ideas in a lively discussion via chat. And nearly 8,000 additional viewers have accessed the recording of the town hall, along with the collection of resources shared by both panelists and attendees.

The panelists included:

The town hall offered attendees and panelists the opportunity to discuss the pandemic’s impacts on their libraries and communities. After a welcome from OCLC President and CEO Skip Prichard, the conversation started with each panelist describing the current status of their library’s services, including closures and virtual services they are providing to patrons and faculty. The panelists acknowledged the range of challenges and adjustments that accompanied facility closures and the shift to remote work. Panelist Kendra Jones shared that “I've heard from some of my library managers that they were a little nervous about different things, and now…they realize it's not as scary as they thought, and I think it's made for really amazing and robust communication across our district.” Through chat and a live poll, attendees at the town hall shared how things have changed in their libraries. The most common change was extending online renewal policies, followed by issuing new library cards online or by phone, and the addition of virtual programming. One attendee shared that “a group of library staff volunteered to call our senior patrons and check on them,” which resonated with fellow attendees as a great outreach idea and a meaningful way to connect with people.

Panelists were also asked to consider the long-term implications for library services, including staffing, in a post-coronavirus world. Kendra Jones anticipated that libraries would continue bolstering efforts to provide patrons with greater Wi-Fi access, as well as issuing library cards online, which will enable increased use of the library’s online services and better support students’ online learning. Ashley Cooksey saw an opportunity for strengthening relationships: “I'm hopeful that this [can lead to] an advocacy tool for library collaboration as well in working with your school librarian on planning and classroom lessons and activities, and that we can also build a bridge to community support and to even stronger partnerships with public libraries as well.”

Throughout the conversation, panelists frequently acknowledged the anxiety caused by the stress of the crisis and the importance of self-care. Lauren Pressley noted, “we know colleagues are juggling a lot in their personal lives and are trying to figure out how to operate in this environment, and we continue to remind each other of the importance of flexibility and kindness with each other and with ourselves.”

The panelists encouraged everyone to extend compassion to themselves as well, and Bobbi Newman reminded attendees that “part of self-compassion is if you're not feeling productive, if you're not getting everything done you need to be doing…it's okay to not be doing those things.” As the session wrapped up, both panelists and attendees were invited to share one thing they could do for themselves in the week ahead. In chat, attendees contributed ideas that ranged from “have flowers from my garden in my house” to “throw away my to do list” to “actually read a book!”

Here are some more of the self-care ideas suggested by attendees:

Community & Connecting

  • Plan virtual hangouts with friends, family, coworkers. Game nights were especially popular (someone suggested that “charades is particularly amusing virtually”)
  • Attend virtual church
  • Call elderly friends and family more regularly

Health (Physical & Mental)

  • Stay hydrated and get plenty of sleep (and try not to overdo the caffeine)
  • Take walks outside regularly. Open windows or read outside when possible
  • Ride your bike
  • Play with your pet
  • Practice online yoga, Tai Chi, or Jazzercise
  • Try mindfulness and meditation apps. Breathe deeply
  • “Excuse myself from at least one non-essential Zoom meeting"
  • Take regular stretch breaks. Don’t work through breaks
  • Watch or read something funny. The goal is to laugh out loud
  • “Don’t expect an eight-hour workday of myself. Forgive if I’m not as productive as I want to be”

Hobbies

  • Cook or bake something new (give that sourdough starter a try!)
  • Craft—knitting, crocheting, sewing (face masks), color in coloring books, whatever relaxes you
  • Garden
  • Work on a jigsaw puzzle
  • Write and read for fun, journal, keep a personal diary

Learn something new

  • Pursue professional development opportunities. Listen to webinars and trainings
  • Try a new instrument (ukulele was suggested)
  • Learn a new language

And then finally, “Yes, we are going to be ok. Why? because we rock.

The town hall also included featured staff from OCLC who shared freely available resources that can support continuing education needs of library staff. Rachel Frick, director of OCLC’s Research Library Partnership, pointed to their Works in Progress webinar recordings, which include topics like accessibility and digital collections, leveraging Creative Commons licenses to open up archives, and creative uses of audiovisual materials at the Library of Congress. WebJunction senior program manager Kendra Morgan also encouraged attendees to use WebJunction resources to engage in professional development online through WebJunction’s free Course Catalog. In a second poll, 81% of attendees said that they have engaged in more professional development since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking ahead, there is a clear interest in continuing this conversation and the sharing of information and resources during this time of both challenge and change. Attendees expressed appreciation that the event acknowledged the stress and impact of the pandemic on everyone and emphasized the importance of taking steps to care for ourselves and each other. Several attendees encouraged town hall organizers to include a more racially diverse panel of speakers in future sessions, and we acknowledge the importance of convening a panel that better reflects the diversity of libraries and the communities they serve. We strive to elevate a range of voices from the field and will look to you for guidance about topics to discuss in future sessions. You can share your ideas with the WebJunction team via email at social@oclc.org.