Outreach was essential during the pandemic, allowing libraries to remain connected to patrons and the community despite not being able to offer in-person engagement. As COVID-19 restrictions loosen across the country and facilities reopen to the public, libraries are reevaluating these services and how to continue offering them in the post-pandemic world. In “Jazzy Outreach: Connecting with Your Community After COVID-19,” a June 26 program at the American Library Association’s 2021 Annual Conference Virtual, Catherine G. Zimmerman, bookmobile associate at Scott County (Iowa) Library, and immediate past president of the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services, offered outreach tips for libraries as they enter this new reality.
“[During the pandemic], the definition of outreach was put to the test,” Zimmerman said. She detailed the ways in which libraries across the country pivoted in their outreach and service methods: offering contactless deliveries and curbside services, repurposing outreach vans to become delivery vehicles and mobile Wi-Fi hotspots, making phone calls to connect with seniors and other patrons, and using Zoom to do storytimes. “Anything to maintain that personal connection,” Zimmerman said.
Moving forward, Zimmerman said that libraries need to reestablish that they are here for the community and open for service during this time of change. “We need to remind people that, at one point, we were the community’s home, and we need to get back to that,” she said. “We need to reassess their needs and how we as a library can provide for them.”
Zimmerman said that the media is essential for libraries now. She recommended running polls and surveys on social media to gauge immediate community wants and needs. Local newspapers may be interested in running PSAs for the library, too, she said.
Zimmerman stressed the importance of being visible in the community. “We need to put that personal touch that outreach is known for back into play,” she said. “We need to let them know that things are getting back to normal.” Setting up tables at parades, fairs, farmer’s markets, summer camps for kids, and concerts are all methods she suggested. She also observed that churches and local service organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Lion’s Clubs International, and Optimist International can be approached about potential partnership opportunities.
This time of transition is an opportunity to implement programs that have been on outreach to-do lists, she recommended. Little free libraries, pop-up events, Wi-Fi and printing services, and new business partnerships are among the many new endeavors that libraries can explore now.
“This is a chance for us to do things that we’ve never done before,” Zimmerman said. “We can reinvent our wheel.
“Some of this is going to require that we rethink how we go into the community,” she said. “We may need to rearrange our programming schedules a bit and our comfort zones. And we need to be inclusive of everyone.”
Despite these challenges, Zimmerman is optimistic. “We need to move towards what is going to be a bright future for us,” she said. “It is extremely important that we go back to what we really enjoy when doing outreach.”