#ALLive Webinar: Libraries and Providing Virtual Services

7 min read

| Lindsey Gervais, Digital Pedagogy Specialist, Gale |

How do libraries adapt their internal and external processes in the virtual space? What are the major things to consider when creating a virtual reference center at public libraries and schools in the midst of these stressful times? In partnership with the American Library Association (ALA), we joined their panel of experts to answer some crucial questions on creating a virtual reference environment for patrons, instructors, parents, and students. 

Virtual reference: How is it different, how is it the same? How does it change with specific tools, e.g., phone vs. text?

The most noticeable change is definitely the level of personal touch we can add to our conversations with patrons. It requires more effort in explicit dialogue or else we tend to seem different than we were before. The tone and emphasis in our voice can be lost in text-based conversation, while our body language and expression are lost in purely voice conversation. Our friendly greeting to a frequent patron at our library is now lulled to a seemingly robotic tone, lacking the social awareness we add to our face-to-face interactions. 

We could say that the more senses we activate in the tools we choose, like using video conferencing over just voice, the more we can really change the presence and reaction of our audiences. The more important thing, however, is just to be highly cognizant of how our words and tone make a difference in connecting with our dedicated patrons, and that social-emotional awareness should be at the forefront. This also makes a difference in our virtual programming too! 

We might also take for granted the normal and habitual flow of day-to-day library tasks and expectations—all of which seem questionable in the change happening when moving to a virtual setting.

What should librarians’ basic approach be to providing services? What questions should you be asking yourself, your staff, and your community?

  1. The basic approach is very similar to what we consider the basic tenets in instructional design, and those are: What are the needs of my patrons? What is the easiest and best way to reach them? How can I make this simple to use and easy to implement?
    •  Strategy: Use social media thoughtfully to reach your audience. Most academics populate on LinkedIn and Twitter (particularly for the humanities), while K‒12 educators populate on Twitter and Facebook. There are many hashtags being used to reach educators on Twitter—like #TeachingFromHome, #COVIDcampus, #librariansathome. Head over to Facebook town pages to notify patrons about your programming. 
  2. And my personal addition is how do I integrate programming in their lives with a level of personalization that keeps patrons and instructors calm and informed through a little bit of fun? 
    • Strategy: I tend to do this with videos. So perhaps recording a storytime for your patrons or a live tutorial review of how to access library references online.
  3. Let’s not underestimate fun and lightheartedness in all of this—it means you have to be a little bit creative with your online approach, but do not hesitate to reach out to your staff and ask them what their goals are, and then add your own special sauce to it! 
    • Strategy: Reach out to your instructional designers or even kids to see how they would achieve a certain objective. 

What specific tools are you using to provide services right now?

In order to facilitate virtual programming, I use a mix of digital tools for outreach and learning. These include: 

Zoom (free for educators during COVID-19, up to 100 participants)
Strategy: I use this for thought leadership webinars, virtual office hours, 1:1 collaboration with colleagues, resource tutorials, and Q&A town halls for instructional needs analysis.

Slack or Google Chat
Strategy: I use Chat to facilitate the level of collaboration and personalization we usually get face to face or when half the team works from home. Librarians can do this to with staff, expand reach to global librarians, and also hold chat sessions with patrons and faculty to assess need and answer questions.

Screen (free during COVID-19)
Strategy: This platform is great for whiteboarding activities with a group while also integrating screenshare, and everyone in the group can participate.

Partner/vendor tools
Strategy: Gale’s reference resources and databases are developed with continuity in mind—this helps to facilitate instruction through digital tools that are thoughtfully placed within the platform.

How can we handle community/faculty/staff collaboration? 

The first step is to definitely reach out! Many instructors are wondering how they are going to supplement their online learning efforts with relatable, valued materials on various topics, not to mention COVID-19 content, especially since their face-to-face instruction is now limited. 

  1. Set up a Zoom or WebEx Town Hall (whether it’s your school or actual town) and frame it with “How can we help support your curriculum/programming for students/families? Or send out an email to 2‒3 teachers a week to check in and collaborate. 
  2. Taking a look at some overarching learning objectives and topics can start a great conversation on how existing resources can be leveraged for the school/academic library space.
  3. This is also a great time to lean on your partners and vendors who have developed instructional materials in this very way—so you need not reinvent the wheel!
  4. Sending an email out to faculty and staff with a virtual comment jar would also allow you to gather their needs that can help refine programming. Twitter users: You can use Twitter to do this—pin the comment jar to the top of your feed so people can share and comment; allocate a “reply to” email to gain responses; or create a Google form.
  5. From this, you can start to compile a list of objectives you have collaborated on, make a blog to record these lessons, and share with the world. Example: “I used _____ reference collection to help Mrs./Mr. do _____.” Try it on your own

How do you manage the stress and frustration people may have in a virtual environment?

  1. Setting expectations is always the first approach I take—most of the stress and franticness coming from people feeling like they are going into the unknown (cue music to Frozen song), and there is a lot of change happening. As a result, they are unsure how their relationship with libraries will change their daily grind.
    • Strategy: Provide some virtual office hours when they can join you on voice/video conferences or even a live Twitter chat or Google Chat to start the leveling of expectations.
    • Strategy: Share a Google Calendar with your virtual programming and keep people coming back by adding library tips, books, and archives of the day! 
  2. Use Google Docs or Sheets to create an online resource digest that can centralize tutorial and access, reference holding descriptions, and supplemental resources. That way, patrons, faculty, parents, and students know where they need to go. 
  3. Leverage some of the same habits that online instructors adopt when they create a virtual learning space—maintaining a safe environment is the key to success. 

This is just a snapshot of expertise provided during the webinar. Use this link to access the recorded webinar with the panel, along with contributions from the greater community of librarians in the Chat section on digital tools, best practices, and managing health references and requests. Have more tips and advice? Let us know!

 Communication/Facilitative Tools

https://libraryh3lp.com — Free for 90 days
https://whereby.com — Free for one user/one room/four participants
https://discordapp.com — Free, self-hosted Slack alternative. Includes voice, screen sharing, channels, and more. Video limited to nine simultaneous. Audio channels can handle hundreds.
https://screen.so — Free (during COVID-19) collaborative screen sharing with interaction and drawing.
https://jitsi.org/ — Free open-source video conferencing, with all the bells and whistles.

This one is similar to the above but situated from a working-from-home perspective: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/go-big-when-you-work-from-home-lindsey-gervais/

This is Gale’s COVID-19 support website. You can find tutorials on how to use Gale resources as well as lesson plans that leverage existing and COVID free resources: https://www.gale.com/covid19support

Great article about how library partners and vendors are supporting the public during the COVID-19 pandemic: https://goodereader.com/blog/digital-publishing/what-publishers-are-doing-to-help-during-covid-19

Free library resources being offered: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Tr_r3-Mc0Hm-Mga8m834ag74ntL23LUyeBrxQARpuUE/edit#gid=0

State models for e-resource compilations: 

Gale’s online learning tools:

Instructional resources offered by companies, great to share and facilitate librarian/instructor collaboration: 

Lindsey Gervais

Lindsey Gervais is a Digital Pedagogy Specialist at Gale where she assists in the learning design and development of Gale’s Digital Scholarship Program. With a doctorate background and research recognition in the field of Cognition, Instruction, and Learning Technology, Lindsey is helping to elevate the instructional framework of Gale’s Digital Scholar Lab. She is a graduate of UCONN and taught Educational Psychology and Research Practicum for undergraduate and graduate students for 6 years. She also prides herself on her creativity, being a coffee “snob”, and endless devotion to the performing arts.


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