Recent global circumstances have forced us all to change and adapt quickly. It is hard to adapt to a new situation without information, but libraries have that down to a science. While many libraries across the nation and the world are still physically closed, those who have been able to maintain their staff have implemented new methods of reaching out to their patrons remotely. Their creative solutions include making story times available through Facebook Live and hosting programs over Zoom. Here are a few programs that caught our eye.

1. Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing, a Nintendo video game for their Switch console, debuted back in mid-March. It quickly became a bestseller, as its easygoing premise and relaxing graphics gave many people a much-needed break from the “real world” and a distraction for children filling up their quarantined hours. Animal Crossing allows you to decorate and landscape your own island populated by animal villagers. It also gives you the option to visit other people’s islands if you have an internet connection.

At least two Virginia library systems have opened up library islands for their patrons. Chris Wilkes, an Adult Services Librarian at Tazewell County Public Library, knew that members of his community were active on the Nintendo Switch system since he had used it before at the library to host video game tournaments.

Animal Crossing seemed like a great choice for another video game endeavor. “I have found the community to be very open and welcoming with helping others obtain needed items to enhance [the] experience… I wanted to bring this community element to the Tazewell area,” Wilkes explained. When patrons arrived on the Tazewell Library island they were greeted with in-game items that Wilkes and library director Erica Hall had collected to give away.

The Augusta County Library also welcomed patrons to their Animal Crossing Island library. Each event saw about half a dozen children around the ages of 10 and older, “exploring, chatting, and sharing resources,” says organizer Sarah Pool. She also arranged with parents to visit the children’s islands so they could show off their own decorating and landscaping.

The author visits the Children's Room of the Augusta County Library Island in Animal Crossing New Horizons.

Image courtesy of the author.

The author visits the Augusta County Library Island in Animal Crossing New Horizons.

Image courtesy of the author.

2. Facebook games

One of the issues with Animal Crossing as an outreach tool is a high technological barrier. On top of internet access people also need a Switch, the Animal Crossing game, and an online Nintendo account.

Although Facebook still requires internet access, its longevity has led to its adoption by many people who do not have the means, interest, or expertise to delve into video games. It can be an effective medium for reaching members of a community. At the Bristol Public Library, Jeanne Powers put together a “Guess the Book” game for their Facebook followers. Powers recreates the covers of various bestsellers using whatever props and costumes she has on hand, and then urges the library’s Facebook followers to guess the title. “While a clever picture helps, I think the main thing is to choose a book that people connect with, something they remember fondly,” Powers reflects. Patrons are able to connect with the familiar faces of the librarians as well as with the books and each other. Since Powers strategically posts the cover representation on one day and the answer on another day, people come back routinely to check the Facebook page.

Bristol Public Library librarian Jeanne Powers dressed as the cover of A HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY by Douglas Adams.

Photo courtesy of the Bristol County Public Library.

The Chesapeake Public Library is also using its Facebook page to interact with the community through a digital version of show and tell. Joanna Harlen and Nancie Laing worked with other staff members to come up with photo prompts and curate sample images that encouraged patrons to add their own photos to the Facebook post. Prompts have included vacations, sunsets, and artifacts. “The pets post was perhaps the most popular, but people have been open to sharing their lives and stories with us every day,” said Katie Walton, who runs the library system’s social media accounts. “This photo project allow[s] us to remain physically distant but still connected.”

3. Remote trivia

Pub-style trivia has become a favorite activity in libraries in recent years as it is a great way for strangers to come together and socialize. This popularity has led libraries to see how they could adapt their programs in the age of social distancing. Both Tazewell Public Library and Suffolk County Public Libraries chose different ways to keep the fun times rolling.

Chris Wilkes of Tazewell County Public Library directs Drive-Up Trivia.

Photo courtesy of Chris Wilkes.

Suffolk Public Library moved their trivia program onto Zoom. Although it took a bit of getting used to some aspects (like having to direct the banter to an iPad), it opened up the possibility of reaching people outside of their usual attendees. “There have been several folks who have played nearly every time since the beginning. We are seeing folks in Suffolk but also people across the country, which has been interesting,” Ashley Reed, one of the organizers, mentioned.

Tazewell County Public Library also reformatted their trivia but chose not to go completely digital. Instead, librarian Chris Wilkes hosted a drive-up trivia game using the app Kahoot. Wilkes read the questions out loud through a sound system while standing in the bed of a pick-up truck. Patrons in about 15 cars in the library parking lot responded via the app. Applauses were replaced with car horns!

4. Loudoun love letters

While we are saddened by not being able to visit our libraries physically at the moment, there are many library patrons that are never given that privilege. The librarians at Loudoun County Public Library wanted to make sure that their patrons at area nursing homes and assisted living facilities continued to be connected to the world during quarantine. While some facilities were not allowing library books to be dropped off, many were still receiving mail. So Lorraine Moffa and Susan Van Epps of Loudoun Public Library decided to put a call out to the community for letters of encouragement to deliver to those isolated in such facilities. The initiative is only in its first week but has already received a hundred cards, emails, drawings, postcards, and handwritten letters to share with the residents who are impacted.

Despite various internet think-pieces about the approaching death of libraries, they are still very much alive and adapting to everything the world can throw at them.

-Jessi Bennett, Digital Collections Specialist

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