29 July 2020
Fountaindale Public Library Bookmobile.

When life felt normal, before the Coronavirus outbreak became a pandemic, a typical day for the Outreach Services Team at Fountaindale Public Library District would look like this:

  • Begin work at 8:30 in the morning by starting the Bookmobile or Library Express Van to get the AC or heat going, depending on the weather.
  • Then, load carts and bags with materials, program supplies, laptops and iPads.
  • Drive to the location assigned for the day—a retirement facility, park, church or another community stop, more often than not a school.

Once there, kids, teachers, parents or community members would board the Bookmobile. We would check out books, create library cards, sign up people for programs and let them browse and touch everything and anything in the Bookmobile, often having as many as 20 people inside our little Bookmobile space.A traveling library branch. A space for people to meet, interact and engage with each other. A Bookmobile. We never ever thought we would be asking people to to please keep six feet apart from each other. 

But like so many other library services, outreach has had to adapt to the social distancing measures put in place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In this new era, where connecting with our communities while maintaining physical distance has been challenging (and at times impossible), outreach librarians had to figure out new ways of connecting and interacting with patrons, often being the most vulnerable members of our communities. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, similarly to other libraries, my team delved into creating and delivering online content. And while our beloved Bookmobile sat in the parking lot of the library, unoccupied and unused, in the blink of an eye, we added new words to our everyday vocabulary: YouTube, Zoom and Google Meet. We began using a virtual programming calendar. We became vloggers. 

As a result, an abundance of positivity started to pour in from the community. In the midst of the pandemic, “virtual outreach” gained a new meaning, became a core service and a public priority. The question of “how do we reach our patrons” became “this is how we reach our patrons”. 

Here are some highlights from our virtual outreach journey from the last few months as we continue to strive toward providing our community with interactive, fun and memorable experiences: 

Virtual Activity Kits
We compiled an array of Virtual Activity Kits that include eBooks, streaming movies, music selections, at-home crafts and virtual tours to keep patrons entertained while using our eResources and digital collection. Themes include Tales and Travel, Hooray for History, Mystery Madness, Incredible Inventions and more! We created these virtual activity kits with our senior patrons in mind, but they are perfect for patrons of all ages.

Virtual Puppet Shows
During the summer, our very own mobile outreach puppeteers (MOPs) present puppet shows live from the Bookmobile. These shows—filled with music and interactive elements—are well loved by our patrons. This summer, in place of the live shows, the MOPs crafted and pre-recorded virtual shows that entire families are able to enjoy from the comfort of their homes. For a dose of goodhearted entertainment, please take a look here and here.

Virtual Booktalks
Putting books in the hands (or electronic devices) of children has always been the aspiration of this outreach department! Our in-school, in-person booktalks took a virtual shape in no time. Depending on the needs of the school, we pre-record or offer them live, continuing our tradition of reaching kids and their families beyond the library walls.

Virtual Book, Movie and Database Reviews
EBooks, eAudiobooks, digital music and other streaming services have become essential during the pandemic crisis. On a weekly basis, my team provides reviews of books, movies and databases, available through our library. 

Virtual Tours
At this time, as visitors are not able to board our Bookmobile, we created virtual tours, allowing patrons to “step” inside our outreach vehicles from any device. Here is a look inside our Bookmobile and Library Express Van.

Virtual Do-It-Yourself Projects
As part of our 2020 Virtual Make-A-Mess Fest, we created virtual tutorials, showing patrons how to have messy fun at home! Learn how to make play dough here.

If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon of creating videos - but wish to do so - here are some bits of advice from my talented team of outreach vloggers:

  • Plan your video content: Write a script or at least have a few scripted points, unless you have great improvisation skills.
  • Be intentional about your setup: Lighting, background, props, your clothing, etc.
  • Know that the first few seconds of your video are essential: Try to capture viewers' attention early; encourage participation and engagement.
  • Identify your audience and pay attention to what patrons want. Are there any virtual outreach programs that have worked particularly well or proven especially popular? What feedback have community members provided? 
  • Generate ideas for future videos through conversations with patrons and peers.
  • Digital overload is a thing. Don’t overwhelm your patrons with tons of videos. It is not about the numbers of videos you produce; it is about creating relevant, unique content. 
  • Be respectful of copyrighted material.

As we are still exploring virtual ways of serving our community, we continue to experiment, share and improve how we interact with our patrons. We draw inspiration from other libraries, from our patrons and from working together as a team. To see more of our video, please follow Fountaindale Public Library District on YouTube

Our guest blogger today is Tana Petrov. Tana is the Outreach Services Manager at the Fountaindale Public Library District, where she is constantly inspired by a team of talented individuals who are passionate about all things outreach.