So a week ago I was worried. I was thinking to myself, well, this website runs news about public libraries – hence its exciting name – and all the libraries closed. Goodbye website for a couple of months.

I could not have been more wrong.

There’s more news this week than in many other weeks where all the 200+ library services in the UK were open. Because, it turns out, all of the services are still open. Just online. Some services are reporting more than a six-fold increase in e-book usage, with more money being invested in their services in a couple of weeks than some spend in a normal year. This is to be expected due to the nature of the crisis – and also due to the, let’s be frank, lack of investment in e-books beforehand. But it suggests that more people may well be into library e-books after this crisis is over and the digital side will be taken more seriously by services. The explosion of creativity in social media – from online theatre shows to story-times to quizzes to reading groups – is also something that is unlikely to be entirely forgotten.

So there will be a challenge mid year and that is that public library services will return to their physical buildings while at the same time having raised public expectations about their digital sides. Keeping both sides up, when budgets are likely to be tight due to having to pay for the crisis, is going to be really difficult. But libraries can do this. After all, if libraries are still doing so well when they’re all closed, nothing is impossible. To help in this, all we need is that Single Digital Presence we have seen delayed for so many years and desperately need now. One of those would take the pressure off the multitude of library services in the Summer. Come on DCMS, you’ve had a decade of not doing it. Do it now.

This post cannot end though without highlighting the work done by library staff that have been redeployed in other services. Some are in food distribution centres, some on Covid helplines and some are even delivering medicine via repurposed mobile libraries. To them, simply, thank you.

National news

  • Are public libraries in decline? – Publishers Weekly. Tim Coates once again boots the sector. “U.K. libraries today have a poor reputation. They have become second-rate community centres. And for that reason public authorities are withdrawing funding,” … “The library service needs to be able to listen to the needs of the public and that information is core to what will happen when Coronavirus ends. It has to find and market a service which brings people into the buildings, and that will be people who want to read. The closures give an opportunity to conduct consumer research that can be used to build a renewal program. We should start work now.””
  • CILIP launches the National Shelf Service to recommend books to children – BookSeller. “CILIP, the UK’s library and information association, has announced the launch of the National Shelf Service, a new daily Youtube broadcast featuring book recommendations from professional librarians. The National Shelf Service will feature one librarian and one book recommendation each day. The broadcast will start on Monday 6th April and continue every weekday at 11am. “
  • Great-grandmother’s secret to beating Covid-19… marmalade sandwiches – Guardian. “There has been a 600% rise in online library membership in some areas of the country, as people turn to e-books and audio books in the coronavirus lockdown. Hampshire county council has had a 770% increase in new digital users, Cornwall council a 630% increase and Hertfordshire county council an increase of 332%, the Local Government Association (LGA) revealed. Councils have been working to provide additional online resources, using the hashtag #LibrariesFromHome to promote their services …”
  • LGA: 600 percent boom in online library memberships in some areas since coronavirus lockdown – LGA. “there has been a boom in new digital users. For example, Hampshire County Council has seen a 770 per cent increase in new digital users, Cornwall Council a 630 per cent increase and Hertfordshire County Council an increase of 332 per cent.”
  • Online filtering service backed in fight against Covid-19 ‘fake news’ – Express and Star. “NewsGuard said libraries across the UK were using its services to help members navigate information sources before the outbreak. But now libraries have closed in response to lockdown measures announced by the Government, the company has removed all of its paywalls to make services free nationwide.”
  • People urged to use free online library services during coronavirus lockdown – Inverness Courier. “The Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) is encouraging households to use online library services during strict social distancing rules. Pamela Tulloch, chief executive at SLIC, said: “Closing the doors to public libraries is counter-intuitive to everything they stand for. “Fortunately, modern technology means libraries remain accessible …”
  • Responding to Covid 19 – Libraries Connected. Lists publishers who have confirmed video storytelling etc is OK and guide to publishing restrictions.
  • Update on Summer Reading Challenge 2020 plans – Reading Agency. “In light of the current situation affecting the delivery of all public services The Reading Agency, Libraries Connected, Arts Council England and ASCEL have agreed that it will not be possible to deliver the Summer Reading Challenge in its usual print format throughout public libraries this summer. However, we remain committed to improving lives through the proven power of reading, and are working hard to fast track a high-quality digital offer which we plan to offer both to interested library services and direct to the reader.”
  • When things get back to normal, they won’t be – LinkedIn / Liz McGettigan. “Libraries must start now to plan for “The New Normal” because when they do get back to normal they won’t be! People will be hungering for social interaction and connectedness, for kindness, trust, community and social gatherings and we can plan for that now. We are all already hungering for human contact, and places just to be, things to do, people to see! Yes we need to up our game big time on our digital offer but when this is over digital will fail to rival libraries and their staff in these 4 purely human characteristics – Empathy, Sympathy, Passion, Curiosity – we still want access to “actual” people even when digital works perfectly”

International news

“What is the library´s value if they focus on being the middleman between digital content and an online consumer? It isn’t a long term strategy to interpose yourself between the content and the user unless you are adding value, if the physical space has been removed from the chain … There’s a danger in a time of crisis that we rush around like a supermarket shopper panic-buying, swiping things thoughtlessly from the shelves. And we all know what hasty decisions can lead to … A true connection and dialogue between content and user, one of the most important values of the library, is in higher and higher demand.”

“our community members need us more than ever. They need someone to connect with. They need someone to share positivity and hope with them. I can’t think of a better organisation to do that than the public library.”

  • Covid-19’s Impact on Libraries Goes Beyond Books – Wired. ““We cannot create a sense of normalcy for them,” Salazar says. “But we can use this new reality to offer something different. That’s what we’re working on. Many of us are challenged, but we’re coming up with good, creative ideas.””
  • Public Libraries’ Novel Response to a Novel Virus – Atlantic. “America’s public libraries have led the ranks of “second responders,” stepping up for their communities in times of natural or manmade disasters, like hurricanes, floods, shootings, fires, and big downturns in individual lives.”. List of what US libraries are doing for the homeless etc.
  • Starting Thursday, Dolly Parton will read bedtime stories to your kids – CNN. “The nine-time Gramm winner said beginning this Thursday, she will read bedtime stories to children in a new virtual series called “Goodnight with Dolly.” Each week, Parton will read a new book selected from the Imagination Library, her book gifting program which mails free books to children.”

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