Yarra Plenty Regional Library #StayAtHome Film Festival

Library Programming Goes Digital during #COVID-19

Jane Cowell
6 min readMay 9, 2020


What happens when the library building is closed to the public due to a pandemic? Libraries deliver directly to your home is what happens! At my library service we have made it our mission to ensure we still deliver a library service to our communities — exploring new ways of connecting, delivering digitally and supporting our communities through the challenging lockdown conditions. This has meant all our staff continue to be meaningfully employed and involved in reimagining how we deliver our library service directly to the home. Staff are learning new skills, bringing previously unknown skills to their new roles and have adjusted their work times to a Monday — Friday working week and working from home. It is both a challenging and tiring time as staff are constantly innovating, iterating and adjusting to a new normal. Here are some of the most popular online programs that are being offered. It might spark some ideas for your library.

Pet Tales Designed for reluctant readers, these individual 15-minute sessions with a pet (and their librarian!) offer a safe audience for children to practice their reading with. The 15 minute sessions are delivered on Microsoft Teams. They must be booked in and currently all sessions offered are being booked out. This is something all Library staff with a pet who can sit in front of a camera for 15 minutes can get involved with. The reason we went with Microsoft Teams as a platform is that we can ensure safety as no-one can gatecrash it and privacy is ensured.

Book Valet our librarians curate a personalised book and film list for our members, linking to our digital library and online streaming services. We have expanded our eResources to support the surge of use that has occurred. Once the lockdown is eased we are planning to expand the Book Valet service to offer Family Fun packs to be picked up through a Click and Collect service offered from Monday — Friday.

Science Club and Lego Club — Both these clubs are delivered via Facebook Live. These weekly events feature science activities and Lego building challenges aimed at Upper Primary school children. We are also adding the Facebook Code Club and this will start from 11th May. These have all been well attended though staff still miss the face to face interaction with the regular children who come to the library.

Yarra Plenty Regional Library Live Storytime Schedule

All public libraries quickly put their storytimes online which was great to see. Copyright was negotiated at a national level in Australia via the Australian Library and Information Association which took care of the legal requirements. Our three daily Virtual Storytime sessions continue and have now surpassed 100,000 minutes viewed. All recordings are available on the Library YouTube channel.

Last year the library service developed a regular Family Fun night at the library for families to come together for an affordable night of family entertainment. The team have rethought this program and we now have a weekly Family Fun Night — Trivia Quiz. This is delivered over Microsoft Teams with a limited audience of 20 families and we have some excellent quiz masters on staff who are hosting the Quiz night. Our first session was booked out and we are hoping this becomes a popular event.

Homework Help — In Australia the schools are closed and children are undertaking online schooling at home. This is a challenge for some parents and library staff got together to put our homework help sessions online. These are one on one tutoring and we offer tutoring for Primary school students, upper secondary school students in English and Maths and also Victorian Certificate of Education English sessions. When booking a session an email address is needed. Our tutors then send a link for the time to connect via video link. A laptop or ipad is also required and the student brings their own work sheets, activities or homework to the session. This has been very popular with children and teens booking in for a regular session with their favourite tutor.

Another key issue our over 70s are facing is social isolation exasperated by the lockdown conditions. Our Caring Calls service is a telephone check-in service for the library’s 5,500 members over 70 and was launched on April 16. The calls can last up to 30 minutes with some members very grateful for the contact. A script was developed with the list of all services available to seniors during the lockdown and staff are also talking through tech issues with our seniors to connect them to the library’s eResources. At the time of writing staff have called over 1300 members connecting them to Library and local Council services. This has kept a number of our primary customer service library staff in meaningful customer facing work and is ideal to be delivered when working from home. Internet connected library telephones have been installed in the staff homes for this purpose.

Ask a Librarian Service

Staff are also rostered to our Ask A Librarian live service via Facebook and Twitter with staff answering a range of questions centred primarily on tech help to connect with our current programs or eResources. Let Me Research That is another traditional library service our librarians are still delivering online and is offered via a reseach form submitted by our community members. Our Tech Helpline is offered in real time via telephone and is to help with that device you can’t seem to get working or questions about online services. We also have a few staff who are very good at Family History and we are offering a Family and Local History support service to get you started. With Ancestry offering their service to library patrons from home this was thought to be a need though take up of this service has been slow.

Activity guides to help patrons access resources and information to help keep them healthy, learning and having fun at home has also been a focus of development for staff. Guides that have been developed include Weekend Wellness, #StayAtHome Film Festival and Noticing Nature. All activity guides promote our eResources with curated lists and is another way we are promoting our digital collections to our members.

A significant amount of staff time has also been dedicated to writing website content. There has been an increase of website hits over this time as our content is updated daily with new blog posts and curated eResource lists. Blog posts on Anzac Day at Home, Community Services available, BookClub eBooks available for use, and GLAM Online offerings are a sample of what is published. Engagement with our content on Twitter has also increased and is up 41% compared to last month. Feel free to give us a follow!

But our library staff are not stopping there. Library clubs in development include Culture Club, Yack & Yarn, Writing Group and English Language Group. It is intended that these groups will connect over Microsoft Teams. Another memory project inviting community to submit their reflections on the pandemic through photos, writing or audio/video recordings is also in development and will be hosted on the website and social media channels.

So our message to our communities is that while our physical branches may be closed the library is still open to your home. I hope there is something here that will help your library reimagine your library service offer in a time of lockdown and social distancing. Would be great to know what other libraries are doing as we can all learn from each other. I know that the Australian Library and Information Association is compiling Australian libraries’ offers so please connect with them if you are a library in Australia. Feel free to connect with me via Twitter. Stay safe everyone.



Jane Cowell

Librarian, interested in libraries, digital disruption, startups, Australian politics