Every month the ALSC Building Partnerships committee is responsible for writing a blog post, normally it highlights a successful program or event that was made possible through a partnership with an outside organization. In light of recent COVID-19 related events, in which many of the libraries across the country have been forced to cancel programs and close our doors to the public for the foreseeable future, I thought it might be timely to follow up on Cecilia McGowan’s earlier post about how we are responding in our communities— specifically as it relates to some of our partner organizations and institutions.
As youth librarians, our most important partners are our schools and educators— which these days also includes many parents who have been thrown into homeschooling for the first time. In my library system, our youth services staff have already been busily trying to figure out ways that we can help provide the resources that our students, parents, and teachers need as they have shifted to an almost entirely virtual environment. The key elements for engagement seem to be communication and access. How can we make sure that parents and teachers know about the resources that we have online, and how can we make sure that there are no barriers to access? The Brooklyn Public library has already reorganized our online resources page in order to include a section titled “Homeschool Resources” to hopefully make these databases and sites easier for parents and teachers to find on our website. We are reaching out to our contacts at the Department of Education and other schools to remind them of all the great ebooks and databases that we have available. Librarians are posting about these resources in their community Facebook pages and parenting listservs— Social Media is one of our best tools right now. We are also looking into solutions to reduce the barriers for patrons to apply for electronic resource specific eCards, so that students and teachers without active library cards would still be able to access them. There are of course larger obstacles that we will need to overcome. In Brooklyn, the city is still trying to figure out how to bridge the digital divide for the many students who do not have access to technology or internet at home. I am sure this will be an issue faced by many of our communities across the country. While normally libraries are the place that students have free access to these resources, we are now tasked to figure out how we can provide access without our physical buildings. Perhaps we could transform our bookmobiles into mobile hotspots, or offer loans of laptops, tablets, and WiFi routers to those in need. Our role in providing access could be crucial to the success of a virtual learning structure, and as experts in problem solving and serving our communities, I am sure we will be able to help figure out temporary solutions as we pool our resources with other community organizations. Luckily, with our vast experience in doing school outreach, providing instruction in digital and information literacy, and being advocates in providing technology access to everyone— this is not entirely new territory for us.
Aside from schools, we have many other partnerships that we can continue during a closure. We should at the very least be utilizing our mutual networks to help disseminate information and resources. If you partner with museums or other cultural institutions, they may be offering virtual learning experiences that your patrons could benefit from. Creating curated lists of local institutions with links to virtual tours of exhibitions or “field trips” could help fill the void that many patrons will feel from being stuck at home. The explorer app from the American Museum of Natural History is one example of resources that museums are offering.
Another important partnership is with the 2020 Census. This virus has unfortunately hit just as the census mailers are starting to arrive at people’s homes. While we had been planning on offering many different types of programs and resources at our branches to help people fill it out, we will now need to move this online with virtual Q&As and other virtual programs such as census focused storytimes. With everything that is going on, it will be especially vital to pull people out of the COVID-19 bubble and remind them of the importance of filling out the Census for the impact it will have on their communities in the many years to come.
Lastly, there are many other ways we might be able to take our partnerships and programs online. I am hoping to come up with a way to continue our monthly Read with a Therapy Dog program that we do through a partnership with Pet Partners. It doesn’t seem that daunting to start utilizing technology such as video chats in order to recreate some of our programs virtually. I am sure our kids could benefit from having a session with a therapy dog during these stressful times.
I would love to hear how other libraries are continuing to work with their partner organizations during this time. Please comment and share about what you are doing and if you have other ideas! Also, if you haven’t already seen it, ALA has a Libraries and Pandemic Preparedness page here.
This post addresses ALSC Core competencies I, II, III, and V
Leigh Fox is the Assistant Manager of the Central Youth Wing at the Brooklyn Public Library in Brooklyn, New York. She is a current Co-Chair of the Building Partnership Committee and can be reached at email@example.com.