This season for many of us looks a little different professionally than we might have imagined. As some libraries softly launch more in-person interactions, others may be in a constant state of preparation only to discover that making plans is extremely challenging in this current state. Many institutions have determined that moving forward there will always be space for virtual offerings in their service models. While we all have some sense of wishing to unplug, I am trying to reflect on how technology has allowed us to connect in unique ways over the past year and a half. I’m also looking to the future to see how virtual offerings might not necessarily be the end to purposeful experiences for the communities we serve.
Last week was our first visit to the local Teen Center for a small session of my library’s Adult 101 program. Except for special circumstances, outreach for the most part will continue to be virtual for kids, teens, and adults. As we were eager to start student visits and re-enter schools, looking back on the year we spent hosting virtual visits to the library we were actually able to reach more students via Zoom. Traveling to the library is sometimes a barrier for certain groups, so using a phone and portable tripod became ideal for virtual tours. There were even classrooms that saw areas of the library that are usually not accessible such as the book sorting room. It was worth it just to hear a hundred unmuted kids shouting “Wow!” all at the same time.
There are ways that technology can improve how libraries collaborate. In a big system, branches and communities have the potential to connect in new ways through programming or service projects. Hosting a joint book group or advocacy program online will open up conversations and learning opportunities that might not happen with kids in the same neighborhood. Thinking globally? Whether you are located in a school media center or public library, reach out to other libraries around the world who might be interested in a collaborative project. Organizations like Roots & Shoots have resources available for student groups. If you want to co-host a STEAM activity, view the Exploratorium’s Teaching and Learning tools.
Libraries can also continue to provide learning opportunities on their websites, much like we saw in the spring of 2020. El Segundo Library in California provides a robust list of educational links for all ages called Free Your Mind Resources. While we might have assumed that updating these at-home activities might have subsided, the quality of resources libraries can showcase to patrons has only grown. Patrons have thoroughly enjoyed the increased number of virtual author talks that have happened over the past year courtesy of publishers, book stores, and creators. Giving kids the chance to see and engage with their favorite writers and illustrators on the screen is something that budgets might have restricted in the past.
Speaking of programming, libraries leveraged digital capabilities in many ways, including letting their communities experience things that could not have occurred collectively otherwise. Darien Library in Connecticut hosted a slew of digital programs in 2020/2021 and this summer for their library’s Great Darien Road Trip, they held a Meet a Ranger series. “Road trips and national parks feel like they go hand in hand to me—I thought that it could be a cool opportunity for our community if we could go on a tour through America’s National Parks,” says Samantha Cardone, Children’s Program Coordinator. The Library explored Yellowstone, Zion, and the Everglades National Parks focusing on flora and fauna, pollinators, and “in the field” experiences. The library is hopeful that the series inspired kids to explore the world around them, as well as spark an interest in the National Parks, travel, and the environment.
As we enter into the Fall how is your library still providing virtual services to the community? Can you think of unique ways to connect using technology with children, caregivers, and families?
Claire Moore is a member of the ALSC Children and Technology Committee She is a youth services librarian in a small beach city library in Southern California. When she is not connecting with kids and teens in the library, she enjoys playing tennis and remembering storytime rhymes to share with her toddler.
This post addresses core competencies III. Programming Skills and V. Outreach and Advocacy.