Making the Most of Time On Our Hands

These days are, indeed strange and unnerving, as we figure out how to navigate all of the ramifications of COVID-19. The opening words of A Tale of Two Cities come to mind … “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times…” You only have to spend a few minutes on social media these days to see superlative examples of both.

In the wake of the closing of public libraries, I thought I’d take this opportunity to offer a few suggestions on how staff might spend their time. It’s a given that some staff time will be required to ensure that the library’s virtual services are available and functioning properly. As well, a continued presence on social media is a good practice for libraries and a way of offering suggestions to community members, especially families, on things they might do to keep busy at home during this extraordinary time.

Some libraries are offering unique programming virtually, including live streaming story time, and converting adult programs like a scheduled travelogue to a webinar. These creative measures demonstrate the library as agile and responsive to community disruption. If your library is doing something innovative in response to the library’s unexpected closure, let us know in the comments below. We hope to follow up with a blog post featuring some examples.

Some staff have no experience working when the library is closed, and have never had responsibilities other than direct public service. It is these employees who need guidance in using the time productively, whether working at the library or at home. Managers might be able to assign work that needs to be done to support services, or tasks that have been on the back burner for months. But it’s also an excellent time to encourage staff – at every level of the organization – to invest some distraction-free, quality time in their own learning and development. In fact, why not make it a new performance expectation that, come April, when the library re-opens, every employee is to report to their colleagues on what they learned during this time and how it applies to their job or expands their understanding of library operations.

Resources on LearnHQTo support staff learning during this time, SOLS is offering FREE access to all recorded webinars in LearnHQ until April 5th. You can search LearnHQ by topic, but you can also find a list of all recordings available on this page. Typically 60-75 minutes long, webinars can provide useful content to individual staff, but they can also be relevant to entire teams. Three Trends in Collection Management, for example, might be a catalyst for a timely conversation between all staff who contribute to the ongoing work of developing and managing collections. Similarly, several staff might be drawn to the topic of how to Incubate Creativity at Your Library; or feel in need of some expert advice to be found in Managing Overwhelm in Times of ‘Crazy Busy’. When multiple staff view and listen to the same recording, it allows for learning together, which can be a richer experience than individual learning. In addition to engaging in meaningful, relevant conversation, group learning can also be a way of holding each other accountable and supporting each other in making changes and improvements based on what they have learned.

In addition to recorded webinars, SOLS is launching a short online module on What It Means To Be An Active Learner. It will also be free between now and April 5th. Intended to help staff understand themselves as learners and take responsibility for their own growth, the module can be a great way to cultivate a learning environment. Here’s a handout from the module, featuring the 10 Habits of the Active Learner. Now – when the library is closed and staff unexpectedly has time on their hands – is a great time to circulate these habits and initiate conversations about how to put them into practice.

Also in LearnHQ, and also free, you will find professional resources on an array of topics. Part of active learning is deciding for yourself that you need to understand more about some aspect of library operations. These resources can be a great starting place. They not only provide a good overview of the topic in question, but they liberally offer links to other resources for further exploration.

It bears saying, that in addition to the free offerings outlined above, there are a number of self-directed online courses available, covering a range of topics. While not free, they’re relatively affordable. Here are a few examples:

As we all struggle to be productive (and safe), while practicing social distancing, let’s choose to raise the bar in our expectation that all staff identify themselves as active learners who regularly embark upon independent, self-directed learning.