Being a Library Champion During a Time of Crisis

A version of this post originally appeared in the April issue of the Trustee Corner.

Libraries transform: Because libraries bring people together when we have to be apart.
Graphic from the American Library Association’s “Libraries Transform” campaign

During the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries are facing challenges when it comes to funding, staffing, and shifting services to meet community need from a distance. Library trustees and other library supporters may be called on during this time to be a champion for the public library, and to advocate for the library in the community and with stakeholders.

With a statewide stay at home order through April 26 in Colorado, most libraries have closed their doors to the public and many have staff working from home. The American Library Association (ALA) released a statement on March 17 in support of closing library buildings to the public in order to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, while maintaining paid leave and benefits for all library staff. The ALA released a second statement on April 21, on National Library Workers Day, reaffirming that “library staff should not be asked to do nonessential work in closed library buildings and should be permitted to work remotely where feasible.”

Despite having closed their doors, public libraries have opened windows to their virtual services, and have found creative and innovative ways to take in-person services online. The Public Library Association conducted a survey of the initial response of public libraries, and has released data showing that 61% of public libraries who responded have begun to offer some virtual programming. Library staff are creating new kinds of content to connect with patrons, and developing new processes to manage that content.

Public libraries have also been partners in their communities as sites for emergency food distribution, support for the homeless, and parking lot wifi access. The Pikes Peak Library District is one of many libraries in Colorado that is using their makerspace equipment to manufacture face shields and masks for first responders. The Denver Public Library launched access to the Udemy online learning platform for all cardholders, to support online learning. Libraries have been lending mobile hotspots and laptops to help lessen the digital divide. In addition to virtual storytimes and phone-a-story services, libraries are offering online programs on genealogy, local history, and crafts (including this series from the Pueblo City-County Library District on how to make your own tye-died face mask).

With all that public libraries are doing for their communities, there are still challenges when it comes to funding and support for libraries. Local governments are already projecting budget shortfalls, and are working to make adjustments. Library budgets may be in jeopardy, and library boards may be critical voices in the conversation about funding. Library friends and foundation organizations may also be suffering a loss of revenue due to cancelled books sales, galas, and other fundraising events.

United for Libraries offered two free webinars on how library supporters can be champions for the library. Both were recorded and archived, and free to view: Advocacy for Your Library During a Crisis and Engaging Library Supporters During the COVID-19 Pandemic. The ALA released state and local resources for advocacy, including a one-page overview on How Community Leaders Can Partner with Libraries During the Response and Recovery. The EveryLibrary organization has made the case that the purchasing power of libraries will be an essential part of economic recovery, especially if libraries shift their purchasing policy to prefer vendors from the local economy.

The theme for this year’s National Library Week is Find the Library at Your Place. This is a savvy last minute adaptation of the previously planned theme, Find Your Place at the Library, bringing an emphasis on staying home and accessing the library remotely. The ALA has put together a list of 20 easy ways to participate in National Library Week, all of which can be done from home. Library Giving Day is Thursday April 23, and library fundraising efforts are ongoing.

Being a library champion is a year round effort, but it is even more critical during these times of crisis. As a library trustee, think about how you (and your fellow board members) can let the community know the value of the library, even when we’re all doing our part to stay at home.

How are your library’s board (and other supporters) being a champion for the library during these difficult times? Email Crystal Schimpf to share your story.

Crystal Schimpf