State of America’s Libraries: Open (Online) For National Library Week 2020

April 21, 2020

If I weren’t so busy using library services online and staying in touch with library colleagues across the United States, I might actually be feeling the loss of all that they usually offer onsite—a set of resources, services, and possibilities nicely summarized in the newly released State of America’s Libraries 2020 report from the American Library Association’s American Libraries magazine.

Anyone taking the time to read this wonderful yearly summary of why libraries remain cherished community resources (even when the buildings themselves are closed  because of shelter- in-place guidelines designed to fight the spread of the 2019-2020 coronavirus pandemic) can’t help but be impressed by and grateful, as we celebrate National Library Week (April 19-25, 2020), for all that libraries and library staff contribute to our communities—onsite as well as online.  

Libraries, those who wrote or otherwise contributed to the report remind us, actively support “learning and parent engagement” in the learning process; they offer wellness and health resources and activities beyond what many of us assume is in place, including “materials on healthy lifestyles, cookbooks that address medical dietary needs, multimedia for physical exercise instruction, and self-help mental health materials. Some libraries take healthy lifestyle services even further by offering walking, hiking, bicycling, or running programs that take place outside the library building. Nearly 23% of public libraries host fitness or yoga classes.” Most offer “digital literacy training programs, through which community members can learn résumé development and job searching and gain new skills to aid in career advancement. Nearly half of the more than 16,000 public libraries in the US provide free services for small businesses and entrepreneurs…”

And there is plenty onsite that goes beyond our traditional views of what libraries provide: “The best proof that public libraries are about more than just books is their evolution into libraries of things, offering nontraditional collections that are community-specific and imaginative. The wide array of items available to check out includes mattresses, dolls, bicycles, binoculars, and accordions. At the Beaverton (Oreg.) City Library, patrons can check out kitchenware, outdoor equipment, and games.”

For me, the “library” is a cohesive blend of onsite and online resources, services, possibilities—and people. (Never forget those wonderful people who make the library what it is—including staff as well as the people who use libraries and interact within and through libraries.) Before shelter-in-place guidelines were imposed here in San Francisco last month in response to the spread of the coronavirus, I was in San Francisco’s Main Library at least once a week; occasionally visited branches throughout the city; and did a substantial amount of my work through library resources (e.g., access to journal articles) online. Those buildings—and the all-important people who make them what they are—created homes away from home for me and the thousands of other people who visited them every day; temporary office and research sites whenever I used my laptop or tablet, through library Wi-Fi access; and cherished community centers where I would unexpectedly run into people I knew or participate in community-based conversations that were of interest to me and those I serve. Above all, they were places where I consistently came across unexpected treasures—a newly-released book by an author I admire, a DVD featuring a movie I wanted to see, or even an art exhibition that temporarily transported me into another world and left me entertained or immersed in thought about a subject or a place to which the exhibition provided access. And the conversations: seeing colleagues who would ask me what I had been doing recently or tell me what they had been exploring so we all grew through those wonderful exchanges of anecdotes and information made those onsite library visits an extremely important part of my training-teaching-learning landscape.

So, the move to a library that existed only online was a bit of a jolt. But one that has been accompanied by pleasant surprises. Never one to spend much time “going to the movies” online, I suddenly found myself enjoying access to kanopy (which gives me access to up to 15 free movies a month) and Hoopla (a streaming service providing access to audio books, comics, e-books, movies, music, and television programs) through my library account. Prompted by a promotion on the library’s home page, I followed a link to virtual storytimes and enjoyed watching San Francisco Mayor London Breed read Dave Egger’s book What Can a Citizen Do?, San Francisco City Librarian Michael Lambert read Alison Farrell’s The Hike, and Librarian Anna Cvitkovic’s continuing additions to the series. And because I am immersed in training-teaching-learning, I’m beginning to explore the free access my library provides to LinkedIn Learning’s Lynda.com, a great resource I have previously paid to use through a private account. Thinking about those wonderful exchanges of information through face-to-face conversations during my onsite visits, I’ve worked to transform them into “face-to-face online” conversations through the use of Zoom and any other videoconferencing tool we can easily use to remain connected to each other.

Circling back to State of America’s Libraries 2020, I once again admire what publication editor Steve Zalusky and our other colleagues at American Libraries have produced, and couldn’t agree more Zalusky’s introductory remarks: “As the State of America’s Libraries report goes to press, the coronavirus pandemic has upended our nation and our profession, so much so that aspects of this report —which provides a snapshot of our industry in 2019—now read like dispatches from a distant era. What hasn’t changed is our belief that service and stewardship to our communities are core to the library profession. We continue to see this every day even as library buildings close to the public but often sustain or grow their virtual services and make their resources freely available to all. Today and everyday, our nation’s libraries are on the front lines, playing an invaluable role in keeping communities connected.”

–N.B.: This is the fifth in a series of reflections inspired by colleagues’ reactions to the coronavirus and shelter-in-place experiences and our continuing interactions online.


Adapting to Change, Loss, and Possibilities: Sheltering, Associating, and Thriving

April 17, 2020

One of the most stunningly impressive and inspiring displays of positive action coming out of the current sheltering in place efforts to fight the spread of the 2019-2020 coronavirus pandemic is the display of flexibility and adaptability I’ve seen in a variety of sectors—not the least of which is the training-teaching-learning environment that is so much a part of my life.

I’ve seen firsthand, written about, and talked extensively and been involved in discussions about the way in which the mostly-onsite ShapingEDU 2020 Unconference moved, overnight, into being a completely online gathering of dreamer-doer-drivers committed to help shape the future of learning in the digital age. I’ve been observing (through news articles, blog posts, participation in webinars, and personal conversations) how rapidly and radically administrators, teachers, and students are moving from onsite to online environments—sometimes successfully, sometimes painfully much less so—in attempts to avoid a complete shutdown of our formal education systems globally. And I continue to be impressed, fascinated, and supported by associations—those wonderful groups that even in the least challenging of times, bring us together—through a shared interest—to commiserate, learn, play, survive, and thrive together.

My colleagues in local ATD (Association for Talent Development) chapters as well as in the parent organization, for example, have turned the very bitter lemon of having to cancel onsite gatherings into an incredible pitcher of lemonade in the form of highly interactive, engaging, and productive online gatherings—what I have consistently referred to as “face-to-face sessions online.” It’s a fairly straightforward—and hardly new—approach that is becoming more and more easy to implement through the use of an increasingly varied array of teleconferencing tools designed to pull us as near as possible to a sense of telepresence—the perception that we are sharing a physical space, side-by-side, regardless of the actual physical distance between us.

It’s as if we had formally decided to counteract the frustrations of social distancing by engaging in an updated version of virtual proximity—and we are, increasingly, seeing this virtual proximity become widespread through necessity. The ATD South Florida Chapter, for example, reacted magnificently to shelter-in-place by proposing and implementing, in less than a month, a series of online weekly gatherings that have all the spirit and camaraderie of the long-standing onsite chapter meetings that are a staple of ATD chapters throughout the United States. When chapter leaders decided to experiment with this face-to-face online approach through the use of Zoom, they immediately put out a request for proposals from chapter members interested in being part of this initiative. I saw the first request, via email, on Friday, March 27, 2020. A week later, I was in the virtual audience for the first session, led by longtime colleague and chapter member Jennifer Dow, on the topic of “Engaging Your Audience While Facilitating Virtually.” Two weeks after receiving that email message, I was in the audience for the second session, led by chapter member George Romagosa, on the topic of “Quick and Easy MicroLearning.” And this morning—three weeks after seeing the initial request for proposals, I was leading a session centered on a few case studies of organizations that were making the switch from onsite to online operations almost—if not virtually—overnight.

As we look at how my colleagues in that first-rate, highly innovative, and very playful chapter managed to create this new series so quickly, we would do well to begin with a glance at the cordial, transparent, collegial manner in which they invited participation while also creating awareness of what was in the works. Under a banner containing a simple message—“Let’s support one another at this time”—they quickly drew us in: “ATDSFL remains focused on supporting your professional needs. During this time, we are seeking talent development professionals who would like to share best practices, tips and strategies in virtual training delivery. Small and large organizations alike may be struggling with how to transition quickly to online or virtual training and we would like to equip our members with the skills to tackle this challenge! Please contact the Director of TD Talks Selen Turner at selenturner@comcast.net if you are interested in being a virtual speaker.”

It’s all there, and completely reflective of the tenor of all interactions with ATD South Florida Chapter members: the statement of need, the proposed action to be taken, a clear statement of what is being sought, and guidance on how to respond.”

As a rare chapter member whose interactions are all virtual except for those rare times when I’m actually in Florida (rather than San Francisco or other parts of the country) for a project, I was intrigued. And as a prospective session facilitator, I was as impressed as I always am by the quick response I received to my initial proposal. This is what makes an association thrive. This is what makes an association be seen as the place to be. And this is an association that, through its collaborative approach to implementing its mission, vision, and value statements, is there for us—and we for it—in the best and the worst of times.

The parent organization, at its best, is every bit as creative and responsive as its chapters are; no surprise there. Faced, for example, with the difficult decision so many associations are currently having to make—to go ahead with planning for large conferences that are routinely held on an annual basis or cancel them in acknowledgment that gathering large numbers of people together during a time of pandemic—ATD recently announced that its annual gathering (as usual, scheduled for May) is being cancelled, and that the Association would look forward to gathering onsite next year for its five-day conference and exposition—presumably when health and safety issues had been overcome. But it didn’t stop there. Several days later, a follow-up note went out to the thousands of us around the world who belong to ATD: an invitation to attend an ATD 2020 Virtual Conference to be held a couple of weeks later than the onsite conference would have been held. It’s still very early in the process of disseminating information about what specific sessions will be held, but signs are already promising that our Association colleagues are doing everything possible to recreate, virtually, what is being lost through that onsite cancellation: dozens of formal learning opportunities; networking opportunities in group and one-on-one situations; and an opportunity to “be a part of ATD’s history as we come together for a new learning experience.”

I have often reflected on and written about the value of associations—and association! I’ve documented the high regard in which I hold colleagues in the American Library Association, ATD (initially in those years when it was still ASTD, the American Society for Training & Development), ShapingEDU, the New Media Consortium before financial difficulties led its board members to make the decision to dissolve the organization, T is for Training, and others. And I was inspired to do so again today after coming across a prompt from ATD on its Facebook page: “What does being a member of ATD mean to you?”

The answer flowed effortlessly, without requiring much thought: It means the world to me. ATD is a magnificent community of learning. A large laboratory/sandbox for exploring and engaging in lifelong learning. A source of support in the best of times and the most challenging of times. A meeting place. A testing ground for new ideas and a place to improve what we have already developed. A professional family. A state of mind. A place we can call home. And because it is so good at what it does, it helps define the word “association” in numerous, varied, nuanced ways.

So, there we are: association in all its glory, even in times requiring us to shelter in place…while still offering us opportunities to nurture proximity in all the important ways.

–N.B.: This is the fourth in a series of reflections inspired by colleagues’ reactions to the coronavirus and shelter-in-place experiences and our continuing interactions online.


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