Community engagement throughout the pandemic – Maggie Farrell, Anne Barnhart

This blog post is part of a series of posts from the ninth Knowledge Café, held during the 87th IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Dublin, Ireland, July 26-29, 2022. 

The session was co-sponsored by the Knowledge Management Section and the Continuous Professional Development and Workplace Learning Section and was co-chaired by Monica Ertel and Maggie Farrell.

Several Standing Committee Members of Management & Marketing were involved as facilitators or rapporteurs.

Many of the discussions are connected to management and management skills, why we have decided to publish the content also in this blog.

You find all of the content at:

Community engagement throughout the pandemic

Facilitator: Maggie Farrell  Dean of Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNITED STATES

Rapporteur: Anne Barnhart Professor and Head of Outreach & Assessment, Ingram Library, University of West Georgia   UNITED STATES

Participants from different libraries and countries shared their experience and ideas.

A library is in a small town in Serbia was challenged to make the library more visible online. They created a “Library Corner” at a nearby scenic lake to take advantage of the attractive location.  This experiment helped bring new people to the library and it ended up functioning as a tourist information center for people coming to see the lake. They connected with a high school and those students helped promote the Library Corner on Instagram and a couple of Instagram travel bloggers also promoted it.

Prior to Covid, the National Library of the Netherlands had started investing in digital skills to support public libraries who were helping citizens learn. These efforts had a slow start but then during Covid, more citizens needed digital skills to get their vaccine passports. They came to the libraries for help. This brought people in who had previously avoided libraries (as too intellectual or because people thought libraries had nothing that interested them) so now libraries are working to keep these new users. An added benefit is that the national government saw a new value in libraries as a public/community service, therefore more funding started coming from the government. Now when people come in for a vaccine passport, the librarians can teach more digital skills (e.g., how to communicate online with grandkids or friends abroad). This has resulted in some return users.

A suburban library in Chicago developed TechLabs to connect teens to the library. They also had a Teen Advisory Board to get teens to help curate the space and a book club in the park.  The library branch had previously focused on children and adults but as a result, teens were more involved.

A library in Nigeria had volunteers write book reviews. Because of a strike at the university, it was difficult to get employees to do this, so they involved volunteers which has worked out well.

A librarian from the UK shared how they are bringing books closer to their communities. They have developed ‘Little Libraries’ that are set up in train stations and at doctor’s offices. The ‘Little Libraries’ have different themes, including one that was focused on children’s books in areas where their parents are less likely to be literate.

One library installed book baskets with children’s books and Wi-Fi hot spots in the parking lots so people could access the internet during lockdown.  And another distributed laptops and hotspots to families in need.

A university library in Nigeria developed an app to reach out to students and faculty. The library received a grant to help develop the app and they hope that through attending conferences, they can promote its success.

A U.S. university library lent laptops and hotspots to students. They also realized how important library space is to the students. They wanted to be able to support online learning from home and within the library facility.  They built soundproof single-person booths in the library so students can do their online classes from inside the library.  They used to have a face-to-face researcher speaker series, but these moved to Zoom during the lockdown. The Zoom series got more views (live and asynchronous), so they are continuing to do that online.

It was interesting to hear that in the U.K.; some libraries were also vaccination centers.

A university library in the U.S. built an online course ( that is now a creative commons licensed and available for anyone to use.

One librarian said they had many proposals for innovative programs during the pandemic, but unfortunately, their administration did not approve any of them, including services such as curbside pickup. The attitude was “the government says we are closed so we will close” and did not want to add any services during the lockdown. This library is a library of record, and they cannot circulate any book more than 50 years old. They were able to scan parts of some materials for e-delivery.

A Vietnamese university library developed a book delivery service. The library mailed books to students’ homes in order to make library materials accessible. This was very popular resulted in increased circulation.  Previous information literacy instruction had been targeted directly to students, but the library had a hard time communicating with them during lockdown. The library switched its focus and began promoting information literacy to instructors to have them include it in their courses.  Students like having a different person for a day (not only hearing from their main instructor but hearing also from a librarian). They also created online tutorials and convinced some faculty to use these and the associated assessments in their classes. This library has now expanded the book delivery service to their alumni who live outside of the city.

A university library in Ireland created a ‘click and collect’ service for book pickup and ‘scan and deliver’ for what they could e-deliver within the bounds of copyright. They also used 3D printers to make plastic holders for face shields for healthcare workers. Now that they have reopened, the ‘scan and deliver service’ has been retained due to its success. The ‘click and collect’ service was discontinued since people can come to the library and they just don’t have the staffing to keep it going.

At the Qatar National Library, they extended the due dates for books. They also created a digital form for curbside pickup. They increased the subscriptions to audiobooks and e-books and added content to help people use the streaming and licensed e-materials. Once the building reopened, they started training the public to use the self-borrowing station as a Covid safety measure. The self-borrowing station had been there for a while, but the public did not want to use it much to the library’s dismay. Covid changed that attitude. The library increased their social media presence and discovered that their website did not work well on mobile devices. They realized that they needed to improve how they present themselves online, so they developed a mobile app for the library. They have an internal IT team who developed the app. They also saw they needed to increase staff time dedicated to email (this went from 200 emails a day to over 500 emails per day of people asking questions that are clearly answered on the library’s website). They also use a chatbot for questions. Qatar has not maintained their pick-up service and they also had to reduce the quantity of e-resources now that the public can come back into the building. They have more e-resources than they did prior to Covid but not as many as they had during the lockdown. They are keeping up their social media presence. They do online storytelling in Arabic and in English and will continue doing that especially since vaccinations for kids is not universal.

Volunteers at a Dublin public library ran a book delivery service, mostly to elderly people. The volunteers delivered books and often just spent time (social distanced on the porch) talking with the elderly people in the community to help them deal with isolation. The elderly could call the library and just say something like “I enjoy reading crime books” and the library would select eight books to send to them. Some of the recipients were clearly using the service not for the books but just to have a visitor come for the social interaction. The library also started online social family quizzes that were quite popular.  The delivery services stopped after the libraries reopened; however, the participant said it could be useful to keep it going because many people still need the service especially the elderly who are still staying home due to Covid.

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