Yarra Plenty Regional Library keeping the connection through lockdown

Managing a Library Service in a Crisis Part 4 -The Work

A continuing global pandemic is a challenging crisis for public libraries to respond to. Yarra Plenty Regional Library (YPRL), is a regional Corporation delivering library services to 3 member councils in Northeast Metro Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Our immediate concern, after safety for our staff and customers, was to support our customers with services that were relevant and would help their current circumstances. Make lockdown bearable and keep the connection were our aims. Because we are an organisation separate to local Government, we had to face this crisis using our own resources — both people and technology — without a larger organisation to draw on. Our decision making and response can be grouped under 4 headings: The Governance (see Part 1); The Communication (see Part 2); The Staff (see Part 3); and The Work (this post).

Of course, like all libraries around the world our priority was to transition some of our program, such as storytime, to online delivery. We also aimed to connect our members to our digital library which remained open, when our physical collections and buildings remained closed.

We had a number of business as usual projects that required dedicated staff resources. These included

  • a Library Management System tender,
  • a new library building project that included a joint art gallery and a new collaborative way of working with council officers for a joint public program,
  • two building refurbishment projects for two Branch Libraries
  • two furniture renewal projects at two other Branch Libraries,
  • a staff roster framework project to support the new increased opening hours to be implemented in the 2020/2021 budget.

So there were a lot of projects already on the go.

A selection of the new projects included:

  1. Stocktake (in preparation for the new LMS implementation)
  2. Online storytime project (2 per day Monday — Friday)
  3. Online children’s program — using Facebook Live
  4. New website content curating our digital library offer — such as the Stay at Home Film Festival curating the films/documentaries from our streaming services
  5. Online family/adult program — groups (culture club and family quiz nights)
  6. Caring calls — ringing our senior members and connecting them to our digital library
  7. Home delivery service (caring boxes and family fun boxes)

You can find our more about our digital events program here, in a previous post Library Programming Goes Digital during #COVID-19

Libraries reaching out via Caring Calls

We provided a structure to work to and, to ensure we could work quickly, provided quick disseminated decision-making points. The business as usual projects followed established governance requirements.

  • Project leads were assigned to these projects and project plans drawn up, guidelines and risk assessments developed,
  • New projects were then implemented with staff allocated to the project groups based on their skill levels and interests.

In this way we were able to reassign staff and deliver a program of events, activities and connect all our members to the digital library offer quickly. Three blog posts a day were required for our website and all staff members were tasked with writing blog posts with a connection to our digital content so that we had a ready supply. These digital projects were especially important when our worksites closed, and collection work and deliveries were not available.

Yarra Plenty Regional Library activity over the 9 week closedown

The results of this focus were positive. Over the period from March–June YPRL registered a 206% increase in downloads of eLoans, 1775% increase in social media engagement and registered over 100,000 views of our 170 online storytime sessions. This was all reported to the Board along with the great feedback we were getting for our services, especially when staff were allowed back onsite and we were able to recast our home delivery services to include family fun boxes, click and collect service, click and post (for photocopying of essential forms) and care boxes sent directly to the home.

Key challenges for the future will be how to blend our service delivery for in-person and digital offerings, and how to manage COVID safe building density limits and the extra cleaning. We are building greater staff capability across the organisation to respond to crises and building a programming framework with partnerships and community led events embedded into the way we work. Lots of learning and adapting are in our future as we work with staff and our communities to meet it the best way we can.

Adapted from Managing a Library Service in a Crisis by Jane Cowell published in Library Management, Emerald December 2020

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Jane Cowell

Jane Cowell

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