Librarianship Through Every Occasion: Staying Open and Online During a Pandemic

Librarianship Through Every Occasion: Staying Open and Online During a Pandemic

Brennan M. Harris, Christyn Rayford
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-3996-8.ch007
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This chapter examines how a public library in the Midwestern USA adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff employed the research skills learned in their library science education to explore minimal-contact programming, through virtual and hybrid formats, and continued to provide library services to the community with minimal disruption. Following naturalistic observation of the library in its hybrid state and semi-structured interviews with its staff, the experiences of the librarians and community are considered through the theoretical lenses of social connectedness, the technology adoption model, and learning theory. Unique benefits of the public library, as a physical space, as a virtual destination, and as a hybrid between them are discussed.
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To summarize the library, as a concept, is literally to summarize history itself. The first instances of a library, a designated place that contained written archives of information, was estimated to have existed around 2600 BC (Maclay, 2003). The practice of collecting and organizing information media has persisted in some form or another since, be it the clay tablets in the temple rooms of ancient Sumer, the hand-transcribed tomes of the Middle Ages' monastery libraries (Streeter, 2011), or the wealth of books, film, and media we enjoy from today's libraries.

The notion of the library as a place for the general public to seek knowledge arose around 1598 with the founding of the Francis Trigge Chained Library in Lincolnshire, England, the first that did not require patrons to belong to a particular college or church to gain access to its materials. Though, even this progressive library would not fit all the criteria a modern library-goer expects: as implied by the library’s name, its materials were chained to the shelves, which prevented patrons from borrowing them (St. Wulfram's Church, n.d.).

From this point, publicly-accessible libraries progressed through several variations and membership models ranging from being available to only clergy and scholars, to being available to financially-invested patrons, to serving patrons who purchased library passes for the appointments to access the materials. Moreover, the nature of the materials available has gradually broadened from academic specializations, such as theology or biology, to provide materials on diverse nonfiction topics and eventually fiction. The public library, as the modern library-goer understands it, one that uses taxed funds to operate a local learning institution that is fully and freely available to the public, arose in the early 19th century in England and shortly thereafter in the United States (Kelly, 1966).

As public libraries and their collections expanded, the classification and organization of their materials became more important, a discipline that would come to be known as library science. In the mid-19th century, American library science pioneer Melvil Dewey created the famous Dewey Decimal System, which has been the industry standard for subject-based organization of library materials since (Richardson, 2010).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Synchronous: Occurring at a specific, fixed point in time. Conducive to activities that require real-time conversation.

Technology Adoption Model: A decision-making model that explains how an individual’s preexisting attitudes toward technology influence their willingness to embrace new technologies.

Hybrid: An operation or activity that has online and in-person components, allowing participants the option to engage with either.

Asynchronous: Unrestricted by time, allowing participants to engage whenever they like.

Programming: Educational and recreational events organized by the library to which the community is invited.

Semi-Structured Interview: An interviewing procedure that poses the same base set of questions to multiple interviewees and adapts additional questioning to the organic flow of the resultant conversation.

Social Connectedness: Interactions that contribute to a sense of shared identity between individuals.

Learning Theory: A framework that considers learning as the processes of a learner forming impressions about the environment, assessing, and elaborating on those impressions to internalize information about the environment.

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