Librarians aren’t doing our usual thing. We’re usually in there. In the stacks, with the patrons, thrusting books into people’s hands, brazenly just a dozen inches from a stranger’s face. Touching keyboards without wondering who has last touched them. Sharing scarves and maracas at storytime. Pretty much overnight, all of this normalcy completely disappeared. And yet, librarians are still connecting with patrons. We’re devising elaborate curbside schemes, packing up craft kits, quarantining carts of books, holding concerts in the parking lot. I definitely take pride in seeing how libraries around the country have risen to the challenge of being a community hub during a terrible pandemic.
Books are still at the heart of what a library provides to a community. It’s very hard to replicate the unique experience of lazily browsing the shelves, waiting for a certain something to catch your eye. With most libraries unable to offer this, how are the book jockeys getting excitement out about new titles? Old titles? How are the people getting the books? I’ve seen some really creative ideas for how to hype books virtually, and I’m here to share the wealth.
First Chapter Fridays
This idea is simple but powerful: share the first chapter of a book, then invite patrons to place a hold for curbside pickup. Books with strong first chapters and cliffhanger stopping points are going to work best. This is also a chance to to dress up a quirky little corner of the library to best appeal to the viewer. My local library’s teen center does a compelling First Chapter Friday for a YA book and shares it on their social media channels. It’s always such a joy to see the familiar faces of the librarians and see not only which title they’re reading, but which they’re displaying behind them.
Again, not necessarily a brand new idea, but a reminder that we can provide a semblance of normalcy with very little shifting. If you feel very, very comfortable with your ability to monitor Zoom situations, you could even get patron interaction. If not, prerecorded videos featuring familiar settings can be very soothing for the littlest readers who miss coming to the library. I’ve seen librarians incorporate songs, handclaps, and stuffed friends (some of whom are sporting their masks—safety first!). Of course, it’s all capped off with an engaging read aloud. Sure, it’s a little different without the gasps and giggles from the kids, but it’s guaranteed they’re having them at home.
Being able to check out ebooks from the comfort of your home is not new, but there are plenty of people who have not considered this method until driven by necessity. This would be a perfect time to polish any existing tutorials on how to use your library card online and which apps help patrons borrow audiobooks and ebooks. If your library has a blog, maybe a list of suggestions for books without long waiting lists could accompany some screencasts to ensure that patrons are getting books in hand. This is a perfect excuse to hype books virtually while also making sure all resources are easily accessible.
Library Field Trips
School libraries are particularly affected by pandemic’s limitations. If a remote learning situation still involves a Library Media Specialist at all, they’re likely working in a no touch situation and not able to distribute books. This doesn’t stop the fact that students need book recs and encouragement to read for pleasure. My children’s school librarian worked around this by filming a special visit to the local public library. A video “field trip” introduced kiddos to our city librarians and walked them through signing up for a library card online. A visit to the children’s room included some great book recommendations and a reminder that books can be picked up curbside. This was an excellent way to pump up kids (and remind parents) about the services the library still offers.
Hopefully this has given you a few ideas for how to connect with your patrons while we’re distanced. With a smartphone camera, a few social media profiles, and a willingness to put yourself out there, you can do a lot. Even a global pandemic cannot keep a librarian from hyping their books.