Welcome to the 49th Teachers COVID–19 Teacher Diary, a blog series that looks at how educators and librarians are coping with the pandemic.
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Written by Linda Ludke, librarian, London Public Library
It has now been over a month since my public library closed. I’ve tried several times to write this post, but my thoughts keep jumping all around as the ever-changing realities of this new world continue to sink in. My attention span is at a low, and I’m a jingly, jangly mass of misspent energy. I certainly haven’t learned a new language, taken up a long-neglected hobby, or baked bread; but I did take a shower today and can remember what day of the week it is, so I’m celebrating small victories.
One of the things I’m trying to grapple with is how much we are affected when we can no longer connect in person. Public libraries are all about community, accessibility, and engagement. Inside our walls we share not only books, but ideas, conversations, technology, resources, support, programs, information, and a public space that is freely welcome to all.
Ever since our doors closed on March 14, staff have been thinking of ways to adapt and support our community. The use of our digital collections is soaring. But not everyone is aware that public libraries have ebooks, eaudiobooks, streaming movies and music, digital magazines and newspapers, and online classes available for free with a library card—and that an online registration allows immediate access. I wish it was a matter that could be fixed with just a social media campaign. Public libraries have always tried to narrow the digital divide, but the gap still exists: everyone does not have an equal familiarity or comfort level with the technology, let alone the necessary devices, or access to the internet.
Not everyone has a home either. Or a quiet space to do homework. Our library telephone info line is up and running weekdays now, and connects callers with offline services, and is perhaps the only other voice heard in a day for some. Are there other low-tech ways can we connect? We have a year-round fundraising initiative that provides new books to children who might otherwise not have any of their own—the need will be even greater now.
Shifting core library services like storytimes to an online environment comes with new challenges as well. So many incredible things happen organically when children and caregivers come together in a room and share books and rhymes and playtime together: literacy development, a love of reading, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, information sharing, and a fun social outing for both kids and adults. Can all that be replicated in a YouTube video? As we work through the process of creating online content, we are discussing important issues of copyright, accessibility and privacy. First and foremost, we want to make sure that we aren’t violating copyright. Thank you so much to the Association of Canadian Publishers and Access Copyright for the “Read Aloud Canadian Books” program granting special permissions to schools and libraries during COVID-19. Providing closed captioning to all of our content is also essential.
We know that our community wants to see the faces of their neighbourhood librarians and feel connected, and in these early days, we are experimenting with different social media platforms to see what works best to meet their needs. Maybe a scheduled Zoom meetup for a virtual storytime once a week, supplemented with daily, on-demand recorded rhymes and songs that are posted to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook? The social media response so far has been heartening, with one mom commenting that she plays the video of her neighbourhood children’s librarian to her baby who immediately smiles and recognizes her voice. I’m getting a lump in my throat just typing this.
Striking the right tone on social media is tricky at the best of times. We don’t want to inadvertently come across as oblivious to the real struggles and inequities in an effort to always be upbeat. We want to be responsive to the needs of our community and let them know we are there to support them. The tagline used on our video posts sums it up: London Public Library — Together. Weekly singalong videos, from our homes to yours, have been very popular. Here’s a link to one: Old MacDonald: London Public Library Together Singalong.
As I write this, I’m looking out my window and seeing big flakes of snow falling down like unpaid bills. This new world is so difficult for all of us. In the good old days, I would be starting to meet with publisher reps and placing book orders for the fall season. How can public libraries support our Canadian authors, illustrators, publishers, library wholesalers, and communities? We are an ecosystem. Buying books is crucial, of course, as is promoting new releases, continuing to introduce readers to Canadian books, and using programming budgets for virtual author visits. In what other ways can we help the industry?
I don’t know what public libraries will look like in six months. What is important right now is taking care of each other, and helping those in need as we are able. On my old-timey playlist for today is the 1939 classic by Vera Lynn: “We'll meet again / Don't know where, don't know when / But I know we'll meet again some sunny day.”
Linda Ludke is a Collections Management Librarian at London Public Library. In her 29 years at LPL, her focus has been on Children's Services. She reviews children’s books for Quill & Quire, CM: Canadian Review of Materials, and the National Reading Campaign.