Once upon a time, libraries were entirely physical entities. Everything the library could offer was inside a physical building, nothing outside it, and if one could not get to it within specific times, it could not help you. Then digital came along and some services such as reference and books were available online, but not events. Then Covid came along and the physical was gone but the digital was beefed up, with events too. That’s where we are as of today.

Looking into the post-lockdown world, I would argue that we need to go further than this and, as the physical comes back, we cannot forget the digital. Both things need doing equally. We need to be able to offer every physical service online and every online service physically. So, yes, rhyme-times will come back but they should be on Facebook too. Author talks should be physical but also streamed. Reading groups should be physical but also on Zoom, etc. And, yes, online reference should be available in print. Because it is clear now that to do anything else is discriminatory. To only offer either the digital or the physical is to create a bar to one group. Some people don’t like or don’t have access to the internet. Another group, far larger, won’t be able to get to a particular place at a particular time.

Libraries need to examine everything they do and ensure it is available in both physical and online formats. Because the world has changed and, like a receding tide before a tsunami, it has revealed things to us. And if we don’t take note of these things and act upon them then, well, we sadly know what happens to those who don’t prepare for tsunamis. OK, that’s not a perfect metaphor – people who rush out and examine suddenly dry bits of coast don’t tend to do well a few minutes later – but I genuinely think the last year was earth-shattering. And libraries should shatter the earth with their response.

I expand a bit more on this in this short recorded zoom conversation.

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