Every public library wants its community to feel comfortable walking through its doors. To be a place to read, learn, socialize, ask questions, have access to databases, books, the internet -- this, and so much more, is the sweet wish of a library. Recently, libraries all over the world have had to reimagine a way to do all of this with their doors closed.
Fortunately, Helen Hall Library was closed only briefly last year. We reached out to the dedicated team at this Texas library including Circulation Supervisor - Kelsea Meza, Teen Librarian - Sheldon Stevens, Children’s Librarian - Sarah Hultman, and Circulation Clerk - Emory Dunn to learn how this Springshare Suite client works hard to create a library that welcomes and supports patrons of all ages in League City. They explained,
Our patrons vary from seniors who come to browse physical materials, to high-school and college aged students who utilize our study rooms and tables, as well as lots of homeschooling/elementary school aged children and toddlers who enjoy story time.
When asked about the team, they said, "Helen Hall Library is made up of great staff members who are willing to help any time and work together to benefit the community." Word must have spread and a good experience is the best advertising as, arguably, one of the toughest demographics to capture seems to have really responded to Helen Hall's efforts. The librarians shared,
We have a size-able group of teens who attend nearly every teen program and frequently come check out large stacks of books and use the library to spend time with their friends.
Despite the fact that Helen Hall Library, as it was put, "resides in an affluent community where most users have personal access to computers and internet", there are always needs that librarians discover and strategize to address. The team notes,
A lot of patrons rely on our library for extracurricular activities and resources for leisure, but we also serve many people who have low computer literacy and utilize our resources to aid them with finding jobs, housing, and more.
With the library playing such a vital role in the community, it's such good news that they didn't have to close for very long during the height of the pandemic. Helen Hall is prepared for anything as Suite clients with all of Springshare's tools at the ready. They said,
At first, we chose the Springshare Suite because it was more cost efficient than selecting only what we wanted to use. We were very excited to set up LibGuides and LibChat, but quickly discovered how resourceful LibCal and LibWizard are.
The global library response to the COVID-19 challenges reflected the understanding that people need their libraries -- perhaps more than ever in a crisis. Helen Hall moved quickly. Though their library closed in late March 2020 and was able to re-open in the middle of May, their primary goal was to continue to "provide access and services for the families in the community during the closure." The team further recalls,
We immediately began pushing our e-services and with LibGuides, we were able to create valuable resources about COVID-19 and what our services were that we continued to offer while being closed; online story times, virtual family activities, and online educational resources. LibAnswers provided multiple opportunities for our staff to continue giving one-on-one assistance and was crucial in helping answer questions while our library was unable to open its doors. We were happy to have access to LibCal from home to modify the in-person events to virtual events. Since our library has reopened, these continue to be everyday resources.
Events are a very big part of what public libraries offer and Helen Hall is no exception. When asked about this, their response was,
We use LibCal to schedule in-person programming and register our patrons for individual programs, including limited patron registration for events to stay within COVID guidelines.
When you're having to jump into action it's important to have some clearly defined guidelines. The librarians informed us of theirs saying,
Our principles for creating our content while we were closed and when we reopened was ease of access and use. We wanted to work and create content that would be available for patrons of all skillsets.
The Helen Hall team knew they needed to strategize a bit to ensure "being there" for their patrons could continue in as seamless a way as possible. They explained, "We restructured all the planned events to work through Zoom or be posted online, and we were able to still use LibCal for scheduling, adding the registration link to each LibCal entry." We learned that the librarians really stepped up as they shared,
Our Teen Librarian, Sheldon Stevens, created a ton of online scavenger hunts and an escape room using LibWizard and LibGuides. The puzzles to give teens clues were on individual LibGuides, and the teens were inside the Library to find the clues. When they figured out the LibGuide puzzle, they would use the answer to find a clue in the library. The clue would have a QR code to another LibGuide puzzle (which was private so they could not cheat). These options were fun activities for teens who were not comfortable being in a large group.
Being aware of the new normal is key. Some patrons may still be wary of attending events with large numbers of people, while some may still prefer to remain at home for now. Hybrid models of service are popping up at libraries all over the world. This is something that can be accommodated with the help of LibCal and the LibAnswers Platform.
Virtual conventions have become the chosen route in the last year and a half due to the pandemic. They still allow libraries to discuss and learn but they pose some interesting challenges for the organizers and participants alike. Sometimes the solution is right in front of you. The Helen Hall crew shares a story with us:
Sheldon was also recently was invited to a virtual convention and was asked to provide information about our library, upcoming programs, videos, online activities, and more. The host of the convention was creating a BitMoji room for all the visiting libraries, but we could only provide 1-3 links for all the information and there was a disclaimer that they may not use all the links we sent.
We asked the team to give us the rundown on how they've worked to achieve a cohesive library presence through integration and how putting it all together serves their patrons.
We also require registration for some programming, and the process with LibCal is very streamlined. Features such as seeing the registrations, cancellations, and creating waitlists, help our staff accurately track data which we can confidently report to our local/state government.
When asked about statistics being gathered at Helen Hall Library, they reported,
We have been using stats for LibGuides to gauge patron usage of our online resources; the high number of views was somewhat surprising. Statistics for LibAnswers have been featured in several local publications to our community. In our “City Matters” (Fall 2020 edition), we highlighted that our library used LibAnswers to answer 1,458 questions, engage in over 15 hours of virtual reference, and received a user rating of 3.98 out of 4 from our community.
We've asked the HH librarians to look back and also to look ahead. We wanted to hear about some of the achievements that bring them together as a team. We also want to know what sorts of things they plan to continue doing as they move beyond the pandemic. The crew raved about the team, revealing that,
The team is particularly proud of Circulation Clerk, Emory Dunn's work creating "...an online free entertainment resource LibGuide which had links and information for families to use while places were closed for COVID. She also has a “Watch Out!” movie LibGuide where she reviews movies in the library’s collection, does viewer’s advisory, accepts review recommendations, and has polls for patrons to interact with." The group shares more examples,
Sheldon Stevens, used LibWizard to create a form for Teens for her Teen Book Box, a reader’s advisory program where participants get a box with a book based on their preferences as well as candy and a prize. It was one of the first forms we used publicly, and it was for a program that had never been done before at our library. The program was incredibly successful and even won a state award, and it would not have been the same without the LibWizard form. We’re proud of adapting our services and hosting our completely online Summer Reading Program, as well as all library staff coming together to host a completely online Holiday Open House weeklong event using LibGuides.
With an eye toward the future, these librarians said, "I think we learned that whether there is a pandemic or not, various ways to access resources and programs are even more important than we previously realized. For example, the most common reason why teens do not attend our programs is because they cannot get a ride to the library. Virtual programs resolve this, and teens can attend programs from their home. Certain programs have been more successful virtually or online, so we will probably continue offering some programs that have a virtual option, originate virtually, and are recorded/posted online for additional views."
In the end, this devoted group concludes,
Patrons need diverse, accessible resources as well as community connections from libraries, especially during times of widespread crises. Community members seemed surprised to realize the library’s relevance and how often they use it.
Springshare is so excited by all the work Helen Hall Library is doing to reach its patrons and provide quality services -- not the least of which is a place to feel at home.