Column Description: Librarians often have unexpected roles to play - listener, tech guru, information finder, online appointment inputter, and other duties as assigned. I don't know about anyone else but I find myself in between most of the time - typing information for the patron (between computer and patron), asking people to keep their masks up (between policy and patron), purchasing items by patron request versus the budget and space constraints (the patron and the physical library) and deciphering policy for others (library powers that be and other staff). Librarians are often the people that navigate the river of information, finding safe harbors of truth within the constant flow while straddling the divide between digital and print information. It is a world of this and that, empathy and discipline and attention to detail attached to seeing the bigger picture. Hopefully, these articles will put our profession into sharper focus.
Take a moment to thank all of the librarians out there. You are my heroes. You may not have been directly saving lives but in many ways, you contributed to the wellbeing of your communities just by offering the services when you could and connecting people with the information they need.
You had to stretch and challenge yourself to find new ways of offering what were previously very solid programming and reference practices. Our work environment changed and we cleaned and cleaned. You learned that uncertainty was the only thing to count on.
For example, when we closed, we still answered our phones and read our email. We tried to keep our web page updated with the most recent changes. When the staff could come into the library, we took the books out to the customer. We learned to live with a mask for 8 hours a day.
CNN mentioned libraries as being one of the places people turned to during the shutdown. They applauded how library staff were able to shift quickly from mainly in-person service to often, virtual-only programs. To quote CNN’s article: “...It also shows how libraries operate as a kind of first responder. When they close, people notice. ‘That was my other home,’ Chris McDermott, a retired teacher who lives alone, said of the public library in her town of Ridgefield, Connecticut. ‘A lifeline.’ “Many libraries had to establish new remote services -- curbside pickup and online programming, for example -- virtually overnight when the March 2020 lockdown hit. And now patrons want those services to continue.”
And they should continue. One person who loves our book clubs said that she could not have come out to the library for the book club meetings because of her at-risk condition and especially after she hurt her leg in a fall. With remote programming, she was able to keep in touch with her friends, talk about her favorite thing, books, and maintain a positive attitude during a very challenging time.
CNN also mentioned that, “Public officials need to work with them [libraries] to apply some of the lessons learned during the pandemic -- namely that if a situation arises where everyone has to do everything online, those who don't have access to a device or reliable Internet connection are often left behind without libraries. Quinn and others say it reflects a skills gap and a technology gap that librarians are uniquely positioned to help with.” CNN continues by saying, "Public libraries are the most trusted institution -- certainly in government," Jeske in Denver told CNN. "We are free and open to everybody. And many libraries -- if not most -- are dedicated to serving the most vulnerable."
Inside Higher Education concurred. “In a time of crisis, our libraries have also been an engine of opportunity -- and in ways that defy the traditional characterization of the library as a place that only lends books and reads stories to children. In partnership with our IT departments, we’ve purchased hundreds of laptops and dozens of portable Wi-Fi hotspots to ensure that more students can access the internet at home. Students can now check out devices the same way they can check out books.”
While many people contribute to a community’s well being (thank you, medical professionals), as a librarian, I see the way library staff react to adversity and we should all be proud. Libraries have not only brought training, programming and services into people’s houses, we found new ways to get needed information out to people. We offered curbside service, something new for us but I hear isn’t new at all. We made our building safe and clean, very clean, so people could come in and feel safe. Hurrah!
But libraries have always risen to the challenge. We’ve long known about the technology haves and have-nots. Inside Higher Education said it best. “In many cases, issues of access and connectivity are challenges that librarians have recognized for a long time. And they’re also challenges that we are distinctly suited to address. An IT department may have the ability and knowledge to make the tech purchases, but libraries have managed the circulation of material for hundreds of years … This isn't something that most IT departments have expertise in, but it is something libraries do every day -- and it’s been invaluable as we become technology lenders during the pandemic.” (Nye, 2021)
Every library has found a way to give their constituents a sense of normalcy in the midst of chaos. As perfectly summarized in the CNN article, “Libraries stepping up during the pandemic to do things that have little to do with books, but a lot to do with meeting community needs. This continues even as libraries are slowly reopening. And it reflects that they are public institutions offering services to anyone, for free.”
We’re lucky though. The people who come into our libraries are grateful that we are open once again. They missed us! That means we are important. We do provide a needed community service and we should always hold our heads up high when we say, “I’m a librarian!”
Jacquie Owens comes to Baldwinsville from a varied background - performing just about every task in a library except being a director and custodian. Trying different jobs, she always came back to public libraries, the place she's the most comfortable. A few of the many positions she’s held are; Internet trainer, young adult librarian, school librarian, president of a nonprofit and member of a board of education. Through opportunity and serendipity, she has found a home at Baldwinsville and plans to give her library her all.