Column Description: Libraries and librarians are adapting, always in motion particularly as the 21st century has extended the mammoth reach of technology and digital communication. Then, this year, we said thank you for the ability to stay home and still be able to communicate with our colleagues. As many librarians wondered how new responsibilities would play out when ‘normality’ returned, it was a daily challenge to prioritize decisions. Technology helped, but the goal remained how to meet user needs and anticipate patron requests. This fall, as libraries slowly reopen, we move into a hybrid world. Administrators and librarians have worked overtime and collaborated fiercely to match estimated demand with physical distancing and health-related constraints. 

What are some of their stories and how do we understand future changes?  Libraries have always held the key for knowledge query. Whether for the scholar, the schoolchild, life-long learner, jobseeker or browser, libraries and librarians have adapted to keep their doors open and their users and patrons satisfied. How do individual librarians go about their roles and what suggestions do they have moving forward? What has helped?

This column will consider several library environments (public, private, corporate, academic, online and special) and using a combination of interviews, historic perspective, anecdotes and a sprinkling of stats, examine the commonalties and differences. A fun exploration of how libraries remain relevant and beloved.

Libraries have always been in motion, especially with a main goal to collect and appropriate as needed to designated patrons. Whether academic, public, corporate or special, libraries provide informational services, and for the most part, are accessible to their users on an ongoing basis. During the pandemic lockdown the service-oriented capacity of libraries became a barrier and cause of additional angst for each of us, over and above the stress of remaining safe.

As expected, a recent survey of librarians indicates personal safety while performing job duties was the number one concern of librarians during lockdown.  Two-thirds worried about the when and how of getting to the office, and all respondents worried about books, objects or artworks in their collection.

No matter the type of library, or the variety of skill sets needed, after personal safety and shifting responsibilities, getting the proper information to the users and patrons remained a top concern. Administrators and supervisors had to come up with new ways of leading teams. And people worried about their jobs in the newly forced environment. The amount of stress we experienced in the beginning of the lockdown was severe.

Webinars were created to manage stress, online discussion groups talked about proper lighting and chair posture now that we were at home staring at our computer screens. The challenge to pivot took center stage.  Work responsibilities jostled.  

We questioned what is the nature of the job now that we are not in our office, not behind our reference desks, nor physically available? Some had never worked from home and couldn’t retrieve what was left in the office indefinitely.  In all ways, we were forced to think differently and become additionally resourceful. 

Technology played a huge part allowing us to brainstorm but some did not have the proper equipment or were concerned about online security.  Passwords and access to proper databases became issues upfront, as did establishing family routines which allowed time for concentration, focus and meeting schedules.

Whether scanning for faculty to continue lessons, providing a means to drop off books and remain virus free or relying on the many new (mostly) online tools, librarians continue to meet these challenges.  A continuing challenge for some of our smaller libraries: getting the word out about available services. 

As we start to close out 2020, we reap the benefit of sharing our concerns and brainstorming new methods to provide service, signifying to each other what is important for own safety and reaching the needs of our users.  

There is no question that technology served us well during the pandemic.  Yet, it is the ingenuity, dedication and resourcefulness of our colleagues and our ability to share best practices which carries us over the hurdles and fosters a new appreciation of the art and science of librarianship in the 21st century. Looking forward to celebrating past accomplishments and continuing to re-imagine the future.

Survey is still open: 

Rajene Hardeman, MSLIS, is a committed community and library advocate with experience serving community groups throughout metropolitan NYC and the Hudson Valley. A graduate of Pratt Institute School of Information, Rajene currently works as an independent archivist while continuing to develop programs and raise awareness regarding the need for balance between digital and non-digital activities. She is a trained mediator for Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. Rajene has partnered with the Mozilla Foundation and Tactical Technology Collective to bring workshops and supportive dialogue around the issues of online privacy and security, and, as a current trustee for the Mid-Hudson Library System, Rajene enthusiastically supports engagement and sustainability for all libraries and their patrons. She is a Metropolitan Museum of Art Library volunteer. Rajene serves on the board of Wikimedia New York City and as a member of the Wikimedia and Libraries User Group steering committee. In a non-pandemic world, she coaches in-person Wikipedia edit-a-thons.