Partners in Crisis

Youth librarians look to community partners to maintain services

June 1, 2020

Youth Matters, by Leigh Fox

Many libraries across the country have been forced to cancel programs and close their doors because of COVID-19. With that in mind, here are some ideas on how youth librarians can respond to this crisis in their communities by working with existing partner organizations and institutions.

As youth librarians, our most important partners are schools and educators, which these days include many caregivers who have been thrown into homeschooling for the first time. In my system, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Public Library (BPL), staffers have been busily figuring out ways to provide resources that our students, parents, and teachers may need as they shift to a virtual learning environment. The key elements for engagement are communication and access: How can we make sure teachers and caregivers know about the resources that we have online? How can we make sure there are no barriers to access?

BPL added a section called “Homeschool Resources” to its online resources page to make helpful sites easier to find. We have also reached out to our contacts at schools and the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) to remind them of the ebooks and databases we have available. Social media is one of our best tools right now; librarians are posting about resources on community Facebook pages and parenting discussion lists.

To reduce barriers for patrons, BPL is encouraging state residents to sign up for our e-cards so students and teachers without active library cards can still access our digital collections. Librarians are available via virtual chat and email to assist with accounts.

There are, of course, larger obstacles to overcome. Our city is trying to bridge the digital divide for many families that do not have access to technology or broadband internet connections at home. Libraries, normally an access point for our communities, are tasked with solving this problem without the use of their physical buildings. Luckily, with librarians’ experiences in outreach, digital literacy, and technology, this is not entirely new territory for us. Perhaps we could transform our bookmobiles into Wi-Fi hubs, or loan laptops, tablets, and mobile hotspots to those in need. BPL hopes to continue its mobile hotspot lending program with NYCDOE during this time, and it has kept its Wi-Fi turned on at all branches.

Libraries are tasked with bridging the digital divide without the use of their physical buildings.

Aside from partnering with teachers and schools, see if your network of museums or other cultural institutions can offer virtual learning experiences for your patrons. For example, the American Museum of Natural History has its Explorer app. Creating curated lists with links to exhibitions or “field trips” could help fill a void for those stuck at home.

Another important partner for libraries is the 2020 Census. The virus unfortunately hit just as census mailers started to arrive at residences. While we had planned on offering programs and resources at our branches to help people fill out the form, we have moved more of our efforts online, including virtual Q&As with our Census Navigator team and census-focused storytimes offered in Mandarin, Spanish, and Urdu via Facebook Live. With everything going on in the US, it’s vital to remind people of the effects the census will have on their communities for many years to come.

Lastly, consult with your partners on other programs you want to bring online. At BPL, we have used Facebook to continue our Read with a Therapy Dog program that we coordinate with volunteers from the nonprofit Pet Partners, and we’re looking to expand this into an interactive program on Zoom. I’m sure our kids could benefit from having a session with a therapy dog during these stressful times.

Adapted from “Library Partnerships in a Time of Crisis” (ALSC Blog, Mar. 20).


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