What I’d Love to See in Libraries’ Online Programming

I admit I have some reservations about the new-found love U.S. libraries have found for online programming. I appreciate, of course, the fact that libraries are trying to continue serving their patrons during a time when most libraries are closed and their patrons are being asked to stay home. When I look at some of the options available to me, however, I cannot help but wonder if some of these programs are really targeted to me–or whom they are meant for at all. I have different ideas about programs that I would find helpful.

DIY and craft programs are popular, probably because many people have found more time to engage in these hobbies now that they are at home more. So are cooking tutorials. I like to craft and I like to cook. When I watch some of these programs, however, I begin to wonder who the intended audience is. Some of these programs require a not-insignificant financial investment on the part of the library patron. It seems odd for libraries to be promoting programs that cost a lot of money for patrons to engage in when you consider that, in 2018, 11.8% of the population in the U.S. was living in poverty. And now? Now, when the U.S. economy has largely been shut down and unemployment skyrocketing? How are viewers supposed to afford all the craft materials and the cooking supplies? Even if they could, how are they supposed to buy the materials when most of the country is being asked to stay at home unless they need food or medicine?

My ideal online programming would require only a minimal investment from the library patrons, since the library can not provide the materials in this case. Only common household items or common ingredients would be required. Online programs would not ask me to travel to the home goods store to purchase a bunch of supplies, both because many patrons cannot afford to do so at this time, but also because the library should not be asking patrons to leave their homes for non-essentials.

An ideal online program would not require much more from me than perhaps paper and pencil. Drawing tutorials, writing clubs, and book clubs done online are all great ideas–assuming patrons can borrow the book simultaneously from an online service such as Hoopla. Any program where the library provides pretty much everything you need–such as the escape rooms via Google docs that have been circulating–are also wonderful.

Maybe all these fancy craft and cooking tutorials are supposed to be aspirational. Maybe I am just suppose to enjoy watching someone else create a project I cannot do myself. I am not really sure. I am sure the programmers really just wanted to present something fun and cool. During a time when so many people have lost their jobs, however, I think the best and most meaningful programs are those programs that show how much fun you can have without spending much money at all.

19 thoughts on “What I’d Love to See in Libraries’ Online Programming

  1. Geraldine @ Corralling Books says:

    As I’m not in the US, I’m not 100% aware on what the US libraries are doing, but so long as there’s not a huge financial input, I think it’s a great idea for libraries to be running online programs. Are the programs prohibitive in cost because they require payment to access the programs, or are the activities costly activities (e.g. using expensive ingredients for a cooking tutorial)?

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      My experience from seeing some craft tutorials pop up on my social.media is that a number require things I just do not have. There are actual common materials, like paper plates, that I don’t personally own, which is fine, but some videos are like, “All you need are some balloons, a toy car, glow sticks and a picture frame!” . ..I’d need to go to a store for all that, and I think many other people would, too. None of the individual items are THAT weird, but the chances I have them all lying around seem slim.

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    • Krysta says:

      The programs are free to access–assuming you already have internet and a device to watch the programs on. I’m just confused that the materials for me needed to complete the program are often not common materials. We’re over a month into quarantine. The economy has tanked and there is a record number of people applying for unemployment. It seems weird, if not a little insensitive, to be running programs that require a significant financial input. Libraries have had weeks to adjust to this new reality and figure out how to make the most accessible programming. Especially since there are indications this scenario could last several weeks longer–if not months.

      The programs I like the most are things you don’t need to buy anything for. For example, some libraries have services like Hoopla or Kanopy where you can stream a limited number of movies per month, on demand. (Libraries who didn’t have these services are probably buying or have bought one or more.) This means everyone can watch the movie, and then they have a Zoom meeting or a Google Hangout where you join to discuss it. I think that’s a great, inclusive program. It’s obviously not perfect because the digital divide still exists, but at least they’re not requiring me to go to the home goods store to buy $30 worth of supplies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Geraldine @ Corralling Books says:

        Ah, I see what you mean – I definitely agree with that! A lot of people don’t have the time/financial ability to really invest in these activities at this time, which is such a shame because group activities like these are so essential in a time where it’s all too easy to be socially isolated and lonely.
        I hope the libraries near you will pick up on some of your suggestions!

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  2. BookerTalk says:

    The spirit in which these programmes were launched is to be applauded. The devil of course is in the detail. I agree with you that it’s very unfortunate that the programmes require a costly outlay on materials or the ability to purchase them. But I don’t want to be too critical because these programmes were devised or sourced at speed when people didn’t know what the restrictions on movement would be or the financial impact. So I still give them credit for trying.

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    • Krysta says:

      I think the first programs to be rolled out were understandable. People didn’t realize we would be home for more than two weeks. It’s been over a month, now, though, and we might be looking at weeks more. Where I live, restrictions increase each week, rather than easing up. There’s a record number of unemployed people. I would like to see libraries change their programming to things were you all watch a movie individually on your Kanopy or Hoopla account, and then you have a Zoom meeting to discuss. Things where I’m not required to go to the store to buy a bunch of materials.

      These craft and DIY tutorials are great when the library is open and they provide all the materials. Now, however, I’m watching videos and I’m wondering how they even managed to get their hands on common items like flour and sugar, when the shelves are bare. And then there are all the weird materials that mean I would have to drive to a store that probably isn’t even open anymore because they’re not essential. It’s almost surreal, watching librarians make these elaborate projects with expensive materials that people possibly can’t even have shipped at this point–assuming they are still employed and have the money in the first place. Kind of like watching videos from another lifetime.

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  3. Maude says:

    One of the programs I enjoyed the most in my previous library was a small DIY where you made your own little terrarium. The library had bought the plants, the pots, the soil, and different kinds of decorations, and it was a super fun experience ! Sadly, this kind of thing is only accessible to everyone if it’s free or at a very cheap price, and it doesn’t translate well to at-home activities. Maybe online book club discussions would be more accessible to library patrons, provided they have enough copies of e-books for a small group to read at the same time ? Or art tutorials that don’t require a lot of material, just papers and pencils ?

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    • Krysta says:

      I know some libraries are still having book clubs if they have services like Hoopla. Libraries pay per checkout, so an unlimited number of people can download the e-book at the same time. I’m sure libraries who didn’t have Hoopla are looking into buying it. Hoopla also has movies, so some libraries are having film clubs this way, too. You all watch the film independently, then use Zoom or something to chat.

      I think programs like these make more sense than the elaborate DIY programs I’ve been seeing. The terrarium idea is cool and I would go if my library had one in person and was providing the materials. Now, however, making a video on terrariums just doesn’t seem like a particularly useful service to the community, considering circumstances.

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    • Krysta says:

      I haven’t actually participated in any, but they do look rather fun. I just we had like a YA book club for adults or something where I wouldn’t have to read Danielle Steele or whatever they’re into.

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  4. Nancy says:

    You bring up some very valid points! I’m a teen librarian trying to stay connected and I’ve been creating online videos for a month now. I’ve been basing all my videos off books in my teen non-fiction section that are also on Hoopla for teens to access. I’ve done cooking in a mug, a quesadilla in a waffle iron, a popsicle catapult and last week I simply doodled on paper with a Kawaii book. I also did a graphic novel book club on Zoom, picking Ms. Marvel because it was on Hoopla (and also a great book!). On May the 4th (Be With You) I have Baby Yoda plushie tutorial video planned and am dropping off supply kits to teens. I can’t assume they have anything, so I have been trying hard to do activities with supplies that I hope they might have.

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    • Krysta says:

      Those sound like great ideas! I don’t mind programs that require some materials, but I do think they ought to be common ones a number of people would likely already have!

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  5. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    This is a really good point! I do think there should be more of a focus on things people can do easily and for free! (also, it’s really hard to get baking stuff right now, even if it isn’t costly, because I don’t know about where you are, but over here loads of people have had the same idea of taking up baking and now it’s hard to get flour 😂)

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