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Summary: November 2021 Core e-Forum, “Libraries Press on Despite COVID”

Summary: November 2021 Core e-Forum, “Libraries Press on Despite COVID”

Our primary objectives in the e-Forum were to hear about the impact COVID-19 had on library operations/staff and how participants coped with so many unique challenges and stressors. We were particularly interested in facilitating discussion about workflows and best practices. In short, how did library staff respond to trying circumstances, what worked well, what did not work well, and what does the post-COVID future look like for libraries?

We learned that the “one size fits all” philosophy does not apply to library work schedules. Some respondents teleworked 100%, others worked exclusively on campus, and some had hybrid schedules. Discussions throughout Day 1 lead to many sharing the pros and cons of different work models while also pointing out inequalities with race, job responsibilities, and access to the internet. The opportunity to work remotely provides convenience when commutes are long or days are filled with Zoom meetings. In contrast, the opportunity to work on-site allows better access to files and an easier way to solve problems. Some jobs are easier to work off-site than others, and for many, remote work was not an easy transition. Regardless of position, most participants missed the socialization aspect of working in-person.

When remote work was an only option, new workflows resulted in work looking and feeling much differently than pre-COVID. Cross training and implementing new services were essential such as 24-hour chats, lockers, home delivery, or even robots for book pick-up! One library reported using HathiTrust’s ETAS. All agreed that library acquisitions had pivoted away from print materials to e-resources. E-Books, DDA, and streaming video services grew in demand. Communicating those changes effectively was key to their use. Externally, standard channels were used: email, newsletter, website, blogs, word of mouth, etc. However, much of internal communication was via Teams, Slack, and Zoom. Many incorporated icebreakers and virtual coffee hours to connect with one another.

Despite the challenges of COVID, participants made time for professional development. In fact, some found that virtual professional development provided opportunities that in-person attendance did not. Several reported they not only attended more conferences but also participated more actively in them. However, others responded they missed networking and engaging with their colleagues face to face. 

Regarding the future of libraries after COVID, there was consensus that libraries successfully met the challenges of COVID and are well positioned to thrive in the years ahead. The shift to e-purchases is expected to continue but physical books and “library as place” will remain important. Print books have remarkable staying power – don’t count them out. COVID taught us to interact with people differently via new technology. For several respondents, especially introverts, this is a blessing. Options will continue for hybrid and full-time telework schedules. Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that library administrators will need to look at their employees holistically taking work/life balance more seriously with both current and future hires.

Erica Barnett and Rob Tench, e-Forum moderators

Core e-Forums are two-day, moderated, electronic discussion forums that provide an opportunity for librarians and library professionals to discuss matters of interest on an email discussion list. These discussions are free of charge and available to anyone who wishes to subscribe to the email list.