WHEN THINGS GET BACK TO NORMAL, THEY WONT BE!

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.

WOW! In these unprecedented times we have all had a shocking lesson in business continuity and this must surely have led us all to look at our current and future digital offers and how we can reinvent them. In addition if ever there was a time to look at our marketing and communications plan surely this is it! Time to look at who’s doing it well and to take library marketing seriously!

The world has never changed so quickly! and in the past during difficult times and inclement weather libraries have often been the last to close so they can offer information and shelter. Unsurprisingly many or most of us have been rocked at being caught on the backfoot in these unprecedented times! For many investment in digital, digitisation of collections and indeed marketing has fallen by the wayside because of austerity. How many library services are now feeling the digital pinch? Feeling that they are not there for their communities? Libraries serve so many in the community in so many ways other than books. From makerspaces, teenhubs, digizones, fab labs and business centres to name but a few to story times to learning, access to IT and Wi-Fi. Quite simply often just a free and safe space to be and meet people.

The increase in digital needs has heightened during the social distancing and stay-at-home orders and libraries now need to engage their audiences virtually in order to maintain a vital role as a resource for reading, learning, health and wellbeing and indeed loneliness and mental health. This will require reshaping their future and redesigning the relevant, experience based “next” Library

We are in this for the long haul! So what will the New Normal be? We need to look at developing strategic responses to what are likely to be long-term and wide-reaching set of global changes in our market. For many library services this pandemic is too late for us to implement a fabulous digital strategy right now but there are lessons to be learned here for our future business continuity.

We need to be actively listening to and learning from our customers over the coming months. Their needs, their priorities, and their pain points are likely to evolve considerably.

On the plus side our customers now actually have more time to explore our products and services. Our staff have time to learn at home. We have time to look into staff expertise and think about new services like podcasts and 60 second learning bytes. We have time now to implement some improvements but also re-evaluate our digital strategy.

Many libraries have attempted to bring a small portion of their visitor experience, programming, education, and other community engagement work into the virtual space and with the rapid closure of their spaces some libraries are developing new strategies for engaging the quarantined public. Things like pre-recorded storytimes, online tutoring, answering reference questions by e mail, phone or online should be easily available.

Promoting online membership with access to digital materials, Recording book reviews, making “how to” demos on digital resources and ebook access Dedicating staff to answer questions on digital access/ borrowing .Bread and butter recommendations on various stock categories, podcasting.

In this unprecedented time what can or could we have done better? Do you know your staff well ? Time to up preparations enabling staff to work from home. Simple things like their email, contact details? Do they have a check in timetable?

Begin now to get them involved in a building a skills directory and volunteering the content they can provide. Build your library army and let them know what needs to be done.

They all use facebook, Instagram, and YouTube – Get them to make videos, trust them on social media – use them as ambassadors!

Develop a daily login digital /meet up with supervisors /task allocation Use slack or something similar…Your customers will love 60 second lightning talks from specialists – Local History, Genealogy, IT, books!!!, children’s stories…….

Training – The time is NOW! Get your teams to do the online training they never had time for before! Keep them motivated, search for free webinars, invest in future training webinars

Who’s doing the big policy stuff?

 Who’s looking at budgetary changes for example in moving physical budgets to digital? Who’s changing the rules on reservations and borrowing numbers? Who is contacting national publishers and e-book providers to try and get them to offer lower prices or more digital content during the pandemic. Who is unblocking borrowers who need access? ………………………………………….???

We are in the midst of unprecedented circumstances but the upside is that we all have the time to plan and develop our digital stratgey to engage the new connected customer.

Keep safe and keep in touch Liz@sol.us

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