Blogger Public Awareness and Advocacy Committee

Hindsight is Twenty-Twenty: Reimagining Public Libraries in 2021 and Beyond

Anxious. Tumultuous. Confusing. Cut-off. These are words that come to mind when reflecting on the past year. But with three days left, the end of 2020 is in sight. But we are not yet out of the woods. The COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating economic repercussions will be felt through 2022. Millions of Americans lost jobs this year, and now, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium ending on December 31, 30 to 40 million Americans are at risk for eviction. So once things are back to “normal,” they still truly won’t be. School libraries will serve children whose families have been impacted. Public libraries will serve families who have been impacted. Recovery will take time.

Our committee took time at each virtual meeting to discuss the pandemic and its impact on our communities. Before the pandemic, mobile hotspots, e-resources, pop-up libraries,  virtual meetings, and more existed in public libraries. Even common services such as free library wifi haven’t been commonplace all that long. Yet now, the pandemic has brought these services to the forefront. As students and working parents attend school or work remotely, we cannot deny that internet is a basic utility and should be considered so across the board. According to Diana Price, Central Library Youth Services Manager for the Alexandria Library in Alexandria, VA, “Having a place to study and internet access were two things that students really relied on in our community. It has been difficult or impossible to provide this during the pandemic as our buildings have either been closed to the public or been at 25% capacity due to social distancing requirements.” Both Price’s library and my own — a single branch library in Marshfield, MA — had cars idling in the parking lot to use the wifi. Once curbside pickup resumed in the summer, we were able to expand and resume circulating mobile hotspots. 

Many public libraries also expanded electronic services and collections during the pandemic. The Alexandria Library “purchased a Tutor.com subscription and greatly expanded our e-book and e-audiobook collections with CARES act funds.” But then there’s the problem of screen burnout. Cassie Chenoweth, Children’s Librarian at Orange Beach Public Library in Orange Beach, Alabama (also a small beach town like Marshfield), shared how her library served families. “Our take home craft kits have been a huge success at my library. A lot of the families in my community experienced ‘zoom fatigue’ pretty quickly, so offering a hands-on, screen free activity has been incredibly helpful.” 

There have been a lot of discussions about the “new normal” during the pandemic, as well as reflections on how the “old normal” wasn’t that great either. But we’re a profession that thrives on change — libraries are constantly evolving, afterall. Price sums it up: “I think we took a lot of things for granted. The pandemic has forced us to think outside the box and think about what’s possible for both programming and services.”

So when we can get back to normal with gatherings of large groups, and other key facets of public life, what parts of the “old normal” do we want to walk away from? What changes made during the “new normal” do we want to keep?

References

  1. “Different COVID-19 Vaccines.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dec. 20, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines.html.
  2. Klebnikov, Sergei. “Economists Warn U.S. GDP Won’t Recover To Pre-Pandemic Levels Until 2022.” Forbes. Aug. 24, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/sergeiklebnikov/2020/08/24/economists-warn-us-gdp-wont-recover-to-pre-pandemic-levels-until-2022/?sh=213da5975078.
  3. “WiFi Access in U.S. Public Libraries.” American Library Association. http://www.ala.org/tools/research/initiatives/plftas/previousstudies/0910/wifimap0910.

This post addresses the following ALSC Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group and VII. Professionalism and Professional Development.

Erica Ruscio is the Young Adult Librarian at the Ventress Memorial Library in Marshfield, MA and a co-chair of ALSC’s Public Awareness & Advocacy Committee. This post was written with help from committee member Diana Price and committee co-chair Cassie Chenoweth who are both quoted above.

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