As librarians working during COVID-19, our main challenge is to understand our community’s needs when social distancing is a must. In the past three months, the Northlake Public Library District has worked through four different re-opening phases that required constant adaptation and resilience. Although access to most of our services has now been reinstated, we know our most cherished one ﹣ programming﹣ will not be the same for a long time. The way libraries have readjusted their offerings varies, but we can all agree that the internet has become our most important tool.
Most librarians are grateful that the internet can provide so many services through so many channels. However, it’s easy to lose understanding of your community’s needs and abilities when bombarded by so many interfaces.
Just as librarians have come to understand through daily, person-to-person interaction and engagement, the community we serve defines how we do our job. How we plan and execute digital programming in the coming months will be the same, but we need to combine that knowledge with social media expertise, analytics, and digital best practices.
Throughout 2019 our Marketing Committee audited our social media channels which established a solid foundation for serving our patron base while our building was closed. We determined time frames for posting on social media in order to reach the most people and then posted accordingly. We established Canva as our go-to design software, and selected Facebook and Instagram as our two main channels, while using YouTube as an anchor for library videos. We also took notice of our digital audience segments, engagement activity, and their content preferences in our analytics. We had #goals for our digital space: understanding our reach and increasing the cohesiveness of our digital channels by taking advantage of Instagram and Facebook stories, fostering our Instagram engagement, and championing ease of access to external information sources. This was all useful because knowledge of our digital channels allowed us to make better hypotheses for our future digital programming.
When staff returned to the building in late May, we had knowledge of our digital interfaces and combined that with what we already knew about our community. The Northlake Public Library District serves Northlake, Stone Park, and unincorporated Leyden Township. A large percentage of our community, nearly 80%, identify as Hispanic, and a large portion speak only Spanish. We decided to cater to our existing bilingual audience first, but hope to grow our reach from there.
The Northlake Public Library community is a community of crafters. So we knew that demographic didn’t need videos for each craft kit, and that when we published new available crafts on Facebook and Instagram, they would fly off in curbside delivery, which is exactly what happened. During June and July, our adult staff put together 9 kit sets for adults, including individual crafts or literacy materials. All of our kits were published on Facebook and Instagram at the start of the day and most individual kits were reserved and picked up by the end of the same day.
When our bilingual librarians began offering ESL Conversation and citizenship classes, we knew our best bet would be calling patrons that had attended our in-person classes. We also decided to utilize the most widely-used and easily-accessible interface: Facebook. We knew we wouldn’t use Zoom, at least in the beginning, because we understood that user group’s capabilities and access to technology. We also knew that information travels differently through Spanish-speaking audiences, so we’ve relied on followers to tag friends and family and share our content just as they would spread the word with their acquaintances under regular circumstances.
As a result of our work online (and offline), our Facebook audience gained 214 followers in the past six months, with our largest increase occurring between June and August. Our videos now have an average reach of 600 users and we average around 30 combined likes, reactions, and shares per video. And this data only reflects the effectiveness of two Spanish-language programs per week. We expect our numbers to increase, as they surely will for the rest of the year, as our fall programming season begins in September. This gives us hope that as our digital audience grows to mimic that of our in-person programs, we can expand the technologies made available to our patrons, as well the interfaces they’re able to use.
Although it may be unsettling to think that library programming will be completely different in the future, it’s great to know that this pandemic, just as any other challenge, can push us to utilize tools in new, exciting ways. In the past few months we have seen patrons embrace original library content, be it booktalks, storytimes, or live bread baking videos. Most importantly, we have and will continue to find ways to connect with our communities in more profound ways so that patrons can see all their library has to offer.
Our guest blogger today is Karla Alba. Karla is the Bilingual Adult Reference Librarian at the Northlake Public Library District.