Being a librarian in a library building right now has certain challenges, viz people like to come into libraries and sit around, coughing onto the books and rubbing their mandibles all over the circulation desk. Not all of them, obviously, but the patrons who button up with a nice thick face mask aren’t the ones who remain in our minds. Those patrons leave us in every sense when they depart in an orderly fashion; the terrible ones remain with us in our awareness for lo these many long days. Unfortunately, there’s good reason for this at the best of times: a thousand wonderful patrons may arrive and depart without incident, but one terrible patron can ruin everything.
This is a problem because every public library has one to five dreadful patrons, and in our current case, they can cause an outsized amount of harm. Librarians tend to be older – I know a couple who are approaching their eighties with no intention of retiring. It’s a profession that’s easygoing and friendly to disability, too, with a culture that tends to err on the side of understanding that you’ve got a doctor’s appointment. This may be why so many of us seem to have minor chronic conditions or care for vulnerable people outside of work. One of the reasons that I myself entered and persisted in the library field was that the profession is notoriously nurturing, and I, as many already know, am a delicate and dainty blossom.
My point is that, in the context of the current unpleasantness, librarians are kind of a vulnerable group in general. I’m worried that the confluence of the occasional jerk of a patron and the relative age of the profession could cause disaster. That’s not even mentioning the danger of librarians spreading the disease – many of our patrons are older, too, or picking up books for elderly and at-risk family.
There are many ways to be a librarian aside from standing in buildings and handing out books. While the trend right now is, understandably, “get the staff back in before the town cuts our budget,” I hope that anyone who is not receiving pressure to open from their municipalities will consider the alternatives. Lots of libraries are exploring these already, but I thought it might be worthwhile to list them in case someone’s idly Googling “remote librarian” or “how to open library Covid” and needs a few ideas.
Remote reference only
Even if you’ve got to bring staff back, why open your reference floor to the public? Goodness knows you can’t clean the computers and by far most of the questions you’ll get can be answered online or with a quick reference check. Have patrons email you, Zoom you, call you, and contact you telepathically. Who to ask: university libraries
Set up a board game tourney or Minecraft night. Play any group-friendly, remote-friendly video game your administration will approve – just do it together with your patrons. In fact, if you stream it on Twitch, you may get a little famous. I guarantee I’ll watch a librarian play video games with their friends, patrons, families, etc. Who to ask: Cleveland Public Library
Contactless book delivery
Each patron in your town can order a limited number of books from your specific once a week – no transits, orders, ILLs, or nonsense. They can even ask the librarians to choose for them. Otherwise, this service functions just like a Grubhub. Labor-intensive, say you? Says I, if the patrons can’t come into the library, your staff will have time. Have them Insta their adventures to the local paper and nobody will question that the librarians are hard at work. Who to ask: Western Manitoba.
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Hey everyone! Some important information related to our new Contactless Delivery System (please read through before placing a request). We are thrilled by the response so far and look forward to getting library books into your hands in a safe and convenient way 🙌 #wmrl #brandonpubliclibrary #contactlessbookdeliveries
Stream a classic
If music be the soul of love, then people are bored and want to hear stories so make your own library Internet radio station. Stream Librivox chapters, old-time radio, reference question answers, storytimes, news, and whatever the heck else you want. (As long as it’s royalty-free.) You could also start a podcast, I guess, but everybody and their mother has a podcast these days and there’s something magical about knowing that other people are listening at the exact same time as you are. My recommendation: choose compilations of short stories so that people don’t jump into the middle of a long book. Who to ask: Memphis Public Libraries
If your consortium is anything like mine, then you have most of your patrons’ emails. If they haven’t explicitly opted out of getting spam from you, reach out to your heaviest users and ask if they’d like a weekly e-book recommendation. Be sure to send them titles that are available on OverDrive, Hoopla, or whatever other platform your library prefers. Bonus: offer to stock their account for them once every three weeks so that all they have to do is log in to get that good good literature. Or that rancid smut, whatever they prefer. As long as you don’t have to touch it with your bare hands, who says it has to be clean?