How Might the Pandemic Permanently Change Public Libraries?

Libraries are always evolving, sometimes because of new technology, sometimes because of their needs of their community. And sometimes a global pandemic changes everything. Here are some ways that I think public libraries might change in response to shifting usage habits as a result of the pandemic.

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Smaller DVD Collections

Many people subscribed to streaming services during the start of lock-downs and while public libraries were closed. This may reduce the demand for DVDs in the future, leading libraries to slim down their collections and allocate money for other parts of the collection–perhaps for more ebooks or other digital content.

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Less Computer/Internet Usage

Public libraries pride themselves on the ability to meet the needs of the community beyond books and one of their biggest selling points in recent years has been that they provide public computer and internet access, and often even WiFi hotspots for patrons to check out. Since the pandemic has highlighted the digital divide, however, many local governments have looked at internet access more closely. If internet access is expanded in the future, fewer people will have to go to the public library for this service.

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More Hybrid Programs to Increase Accessibility

Many libraries purchased subscriptions to digital platforms that allowed them to do virtual programming during the pandemic. Some may choose to keep virtual or hybrid programming as an option so they can reach people who cannot make it to programs in person.

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New Services to Increase Accessibility

Some libraries may choose to keep other services that they began to offer during the pandemic. Curbside checkout, for instance, may be a permanent feature at some libraries, as might other ideas libraries experimented with–kits for pickup, librarian-curated book bundles for checkout, etc.

What are your predictions for the future of libraries? And how might they evolve in response to the pandemic?

10 thoughts on “How Might the Pandemic Permanently Change Public Libraries?

  1. JdV says:

    I think that computer access in libraries is going to continue to grow. Many older people especially can’t afford or don’t want to buy computers or smart phones but increasingly, basic services are going online so libraries will continue to play an important part in giving people online access.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      This is true! A lot of services just assume everyone has a smartphone, but that’s not the case. And then I think a lot of people own phones but not a laptop, but there are some things you just don’t want to do on a tiny screen. Like fill out 20 pages of an application and write a resume or something.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Miranda Banana says:

    I love my library! My a long time now, I’ve soley checked out ebooks. But because of the pandemic, I’ve noticed longer hold times on them. I think ebooks will become more commonplace. Another one of my hobbies is genealogy. In the past, if you wanted to use the library’s Ancestry.com, you had to do it in person. Now you can use it remotely.

    I think there’ll always be a place for public libraries, however, they are always evolving. I agree with you, the pandemic has definitely changed things.

    One thing I actually hope happens, and this could be bookstores too. I hope more author signings are online. Not necessarily exclusively online, but it would be nice to have the opportunity to be there virtually. Imagine all the signings we could attend that are far away!

    Great post!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, when the pandemic started and everyone started talking about ebooks, all I could think was, “Well, I’ll never get one! The waitlist will be too long!” The waits were long BEFORE everyone realized the library offered ebooks!

      My library just informed everyone that Ancestry is taking away the remote access for users, which is frustrating, because I did want to check it out. But I don’t necessarily want to sit at a library computer for a few hours to do it. And that’s for all the libraries who use Ancestry, not just mine. Alas. I can’t fathom why Ancestry wouldn’t take this great opportunity to expand access permanently.

      And, yeah, I would love some virtual opportunities to stay! It can be hard to see big name authors in person.

      Like

  3. Eustacia | Eustea Reads says:

    I think for libraries that provide ebooks, their ebook collection will quickly become an important part of their collection because it’s just so convenient to borrow an ebook! I also think online programmes (like livestreams or zoom talks) will be a staple in library events, even as offline events make a return.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yes! I’ve spoken to a few people who mentioned that they’ve discovered ebooks during the pandemic. I think libraries will want to continue to serve those people!

      I have seen libraries interested in doing hybrid or Zoom events indefinitely. I imagine that how long that continues will vary based on interest at each location.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. alisoninbookland says:

    Interesting predictions. I’d disagree with the smaller DVD collections though. If anything our DVD circulation numbers have only increased over the last 2 years. Tying into computer usage, it’s a really common misconception that people have internet (or strong internet) at home to stream. Plus we essentially have limitless DVD checkouts where streaming items are metered. I think it’s a great blend for now.

    I don’t see the usage of our computers going away anytime soon. Even if the government were to suddenly give free internet to everyone at home. People would still need: help, stronger connection than free internet, paid software like Microsoft Office, the ability to print.

    We had to restart programs slowly as things got “better”. Computer usage in the branches was the biggest and loudest request we had. It was heart breaking to have to turn away people for months because the computers weren’t open. They weren’t needing it for things like facebook but rather unemployment or rental assistance. [I can’t tell you how many times I was asked ‘why is the library even open if I can’t use the computer?’ but we won’t get into that now.]

    It will be interesting to see how everything shapes up on the “other” side.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      That’s interesting! I’ve noticed that my local DVD collection no longer seems to be circulating, and a librarian at a different branch told me that they haven’t been circulating DVDs. There have been more government and school initiatives to get out free WiFi hotpots and to expand broadband access into areas that used to be lacking internet access. So, while I agree that large numbers of people still don’t/can’t pay for internet, I’m seeing more resources created to address that. Which is great!

      It’s also just possible that people aren’t going into the library where I live to use computers/internet because they’re afraid of being in public during the pandemic. Responses to the pandemic have been VERY different in various locations. I can drive 20 min to a store and it’s like a different world from the store 20 min in the other direction.

      But, yeah, for sure! Libraries are one of the only places to receive help with using a computer and while other places offer printing, they usually charge more. So I do see those services still being offered.

      I think there’s been a lot of misinformation and confusion about the pandemic, and people truly don’t understand the difference between sitting in a building for an hour or more, with the air circulating, and just popping in for a few minutes to grab a hold and go. I still see people frantically Lysoling everything in sight, and hearing of people who go home and wash their clothes and leave their shoes outside lest they carry in a germ. We know that the virus is primarily airborne and surface transmission is low, but people are still focused on information we received early on when scientists were making educated guesses based on the behavior of other viruses.

      Liked by 1 person

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