Libraries after the Quarantine: the Next New Normal by Michael A. Pinto, RL

This article was posted by Mr. Michael A. Pinto, RL on his Facebook profile last April 26, 2020. Reposted here with his permission. 

The COVID 19 pandemic led to government measures to control its global spread. It forced governments around the world to resort to quarantine measures to flatten the infection curve. The Philippines is among those countries which imposed quarantine measures. The Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) was initially imposed on the island of Luzon. Subsequently, local government units in the Visayas and Mindanao regions followed. The ECQ required all citizens in the entire Luzon to stay at home except for one member of the household who was given a pass for purposes of running errands such as buying food and medicines. The action limited the number of interaction among residents in a community and among communities.

The sudden “lockdown” or imposition of ECQ temporarily stopped work in all government agencies, private institutions, and business enterprises. It also led to the temporary closure of all schools, colleges and universities. Only the so-called front line workers in hospitals, other health facilities, security personnel, and those in charge of food deliveries to the communities were allowed to go out to do their job. The new work and study set-up and community quarantine protocols came as a surprise to everyone. The rise in unemployment and the uncertainty of the post-COVID 19 lockdown on the economy, security, and delivery of education are among the concerns of the citizens and the government. The realization that things will not be the same after quarantine has led to the concept of the NEW NORMAL.

Libraries are among the institutions that will be greatly affected by the post-pandemic situation. There are a lot of questions about the future of libraries after this pandemic. One thing is certain though, libraries must adapt to the changes brought about by the ECQ in order to be relevant and to survive.

What is the effect of the NEW NORMAL on libraries? Here are some possible scenarios:

1) For our daily work routine: Wearing face masks, hand gloves, provision of disinfectants like alcohol, provision of thermal scanners, disinfection chambers, and social distancing will become the new normal to lower the risk of infection.

2) For personnel policies: Physical distancing among library staff will be practiced, hence staff shall be encouraged to take their snacks and lunch by themselves and avoid the usual “eating together and sharing experiences” routine.

3) For the library usage:
a) A reduction in the number of users is foreseen due to the policy on physical distancing. New policies on the number of clients inside at any given time shall be implemented. Waiting lounges shall be established by physical distancing will still be observed. Clients will be allowed at the bookshelves one at a time, depending on the area provided for the book stacks; and
b) Libraries must provide for online usage because students may have to study from home.

4) For the physical set up: Libraries have to redesign their spaces for purposes of physical distancing. Discussion areas may have to be reverted back to study areas. Tables and chairs shall be reduced in observance of physical distancing and to control the number of people staying inside the library at any given time. Computer units will be arranged to allow for physical distancing.

5) For health concerns: Disinfection or wash areas outside the library and thermal scanners may have to be provided so clients are cleared prior to entry. Periodic disinfection activities shall be done to ensure that all facilities and resources are free from the virus.

6) For manpower concerns: There will be a reduction in the number of staff reporting every day in the library. The work-from-home scheme may be applied to some staff. There might be a possible revisit of the Labor Code (for private libraries) and Civil Service Commission (for public libraries) policies. Library managers will now focus on outcomes-based work schemes. Staff development must focus on new ways of providing library services such as online information/reference assistance and circulation services. Library managers may opt to hold either face-to-face meetings or online meetings/teleconferencing.

7) For library services: More online services will be adopted. There is a need to set up online reference, advisory, and other services so our clients can connect to us. There will be “keyboard warriors” who shall be responsible for answering queries. These warriors may be in the library or at home. In addition, delivery services for circulation books can be considered.

8) Library Website and Webpages: The library must have a website and/or social media account since many of our clients are active online specially in social media. The social media page must provide a link to the library’s website. The webpage must be easy to navigate. The content must be comprehensive and updated regularly to provide the client with satisfactory experience in using it.

9) For changes in the delivery of education: Classes will be reduced to smaller sizes and many will be online. This will have an effect on how teaching and learning process can take place. Libraries will have a great role in this. Many teachers will depend on online classes and avoid (as much as possible) face-to-face discussions. More teachers and more students will need the help of librarians to connect them and their students to the library’s online resources.

10) For the library’s resources: There will be a sudden shift from print materials to online databases as a means to supplement the classroom or online classes. Librarians, therefore, need to know the features of these databases and how to use them for effective service. Online SDIs shall be given in vogue. Digitization will also be an option to make information available online upon request of the clients, subject to copyright law provisions. Username and passwords will be the new library card.

11) For libraries report: Statistical reporting will definitely change its focus. From focusing on the frequency of users coming inside the library to monitoring usage of online databases. To stay relevant, librarians must be able to use statistics in improving and reporting the library’s value to administration officials.

12) For library budget: The percent distribution for print and online resources will definitely change. Priority will be given to online resources. Allocation and improving network connectivity will increase. Maintenance of online presence will also require additional budget.

13) For network infrastructure: Libraries will be more focused on improving the bandwidth, connectivity, and acquiring state of the art computer units and other facilities to improve and support online services.

14) For activities to be conducted by the library: Virtual training or forums will be conducted. Even services such as online storytelling, online human library, and other events will be conducted online.

15) For acquisitions work: The usual book fairs may not be feasible due to restrictions on social movement and travels. Online orders and purchases may become the norm.

The above mentioned foreseen changes will pose challenges to library management in the NEW NORMAL. These may not happen abruptly, but library managers and officials of institutions including government agencies should prepare and craft strategic development plans to cope with the NEW NORMAL and remain relevant. Libraries whose goal is to provide information to the right person at the right time must be able to evolve to cope with the changes demanded by the times.

About the Author
Michael Pinto, RL is the current Head Librarian of Cagayan Provincial Learning and Resource Center.

Read my book review of his book: LAYB LIFE, Mga Kwento at Karanasan ng Isang Librarian ©2013

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