The Remote Library Hustle: Fail Quickly and Try Something Else

by - November 03, 2020

When you cannot safely interact in person with your patrons, how do you stay relevant? 

I am the head of youth services at my small suburban library, which has been closed to the public since the middle of March. I’ll leave the issue of whether or not to reopen in the hands of public health professionals and instead focus on what we can do in the time we are closed. 

Around May 2020 when it became apparent that we were in this for the long haul, I began experimenting with online programming. Videos would get a few dozen views, which slowly trickled to less than ten. Our adult programmer has been posting recipe and craft videos, some of which get 500 views, and some of which get less than five. We are seemingly at the capricious whims of Facebook algorithms. 

Let’s be honest: our patrons are burnt out on the internet, especially parents whose kids are e-learning, and it costs a lot of staff time and energy to film and edit these videos, not to mention the hassle of navigating copyright concerns of storytime. Can we acknowledge that there is already a vast pool of educational children’s videos and readalouds available at a higher quality than I can make with my inexpensive setup? Can I acknowledge that I have been going through the motions, doing what I think I should be doing, even though it is clearly not what our patrons want? Can I confess that these Sisyphean tasks are mainly to try and prove my relevance to my boss and peers, even though it’s clearly not vibing with my community?

I am officially calling it: I am giving up trying to do regular online children’s and teen’s programming for the time being, because it is failing and I’m tired of getting to the end of the month and counting my stats on one hand.

So, we try something else. 

Some things have been working: mainly, the online book & movie displays I’ve been making on Google sites and linking to on our website and social media, like this one on horror movies I posted in October. People have been ordering these books and they have been getting clicks.

Also, the Facebook album of our new releases has been driving new release circulation. 

Interlibrary cooperation has been working. Our library and a few others nearby have gotten together the last few years to offer a once-monthly STEAM activity for area homeschool families, with each library taking a month in the school year to host them. This year, since most of our families are sort of homeschooling with e-learning, we’re posting these activities online on a shared Google site and promoting it to all families. We’re only on our second month but people seem interested. This cooperation conserves staff time, reduces burnout as each library only has to focus on one great program instead of several, and promotes networking and sharing among libraries. I’m interested in seeing what other kinds of shared programming we can do.
I tried doing craft and book giveaways in the late spring but no one was interested, possibly because we were still very worried at that time about the spread of COVID from touching items. Now that we know that is much lower risk than originally thought, I may try it again. Who knows, I may even start making some videos again in a month or two. I’ve already made a November Story Room, so I’ll monitor those stats this month, but we may take a break from that in December. Maybe I’ll see if I can get my husband to help me with some filmed storytimes to see if the addition of a new face changes things. Who knows what I’ll do. 

In sum, let’s be brave enough to admit we’re failing, fail quickly, and try something else. Repeat as necessary.

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