On March 17th, the Free Library of Philadelphia closed its physical locations (along with libraries across Pennsylvania) to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Although our locations closed, our staff kept working diligently to ensure that we reached as many patrons as possible. Like the majority of library systems around the country, we didn’t have a plan for pandemics or a set of best practices guidelines for a situation like this, and our staff worked passionately and creatively to devise online programs. Book clubs met online, storytimes took place on social media, and trial-and-error guided us as we sought to keep our communities connected, engaged, and sane.
The Special Collections Division of the Free Library also shifted our work and our outreach online. While we had to rethink our programming and exhibition schedules, we also had to think about the longevity of these efforts. An Instagram post referencing an online program is fantastic, but the ephemeral nature of social media means that posts (and the staff time used to make those posts) is buried in a patron’s notification feed within a few days – sometimes within a few hours. A live stream may be lost immediately. Our goal, therefore, was to not only create engaging online content, but to house that material in a place that could be easily accessed for repeat viewings. After all, we know a thing or two about archiving important documents.
Our solution was to create an online repository that would allow patrons to discover our online activities. This also created a stable landing site that could be bookmarked and where patrons could return at their own pace to find new content.
We needed a page that could be nimble, updated in real time, and didn’t force work on other departments, so we used Google Sites to construct the webpage. We made sure that the page linked back to the Library’s official website frequently to help direct traffic back to our library system. We also used link-tracking software from Bitly to track clicks. The free version of Bitly allows tracking for a month, which helped us direct our efforts to create new content. The repository also uses Google Analytics to track visitors. While this information is less precise than Bitly – Bitly allows us to see what platform is directing traffic to the repository – Google Analytics allows us to track clicks beyond Bitly’s free month.
I hope by sharing this information, it inspires you to consider how you’re saving and sharing your own online programs. This repository is an easy storage system that can be easily mimicked by other libraries. While the future is uncertain, if we need to lockdown again, we have a collection of online content that can be shared by our patrons and used repeatedly.
Today’s guest blogger is CHRISTOPHER A. BROWN. Chris is the Curator of the Children’s Literature Research Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia. He received his MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh in 2005 and his MA from Memorial University of Newfoundland in 2013. For more information about the Children’s Literature Research Collection, please visit us at http://freelibrary.org/clrc.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: Knowledge Curation & Management of Materials, and Programming Skills.