COVID-19 Best Practices & Lessons Learned for FDLP Libraries

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Nationwide, libraries have accumulated many coronavirus (COVID-19) lessons learned and best practices, from working remotely to the process of reopening. GPO has been asking librarians and staff what initiatives have been incorporated into your ‘new normal’ environment to enhance and strengthen your overall public service experience. This page serves as a collection of related information to share among the FDLP community.

Best Practices

In March 2021, GPO conducted the Survey on COVID-19 Disruptions in Libraries. Some of the best practices that were reported in the survey include:

  • Our library quarantines materials for six days, keeps lots of hand sanitizer on hand, restricts study rooms numbers (holding 4 people before to 2 people now), spaced out tables and chairs, and restricted visitors to university affiliates only for a time.
  • We have been shipping book checkouts.
  • Last year we started providing reference services by email, and we have been promoting our electronic resources and databases for students who are unable to return to campus. We have also been quarantining materials prior to processing. All of these have helped us avoid the spread of COVID-19 by reducing contact between people.best practices
  • We requested the COVID-19 promotional materials; posters, etc. We placed materials around the library at strategic locations. The posters were great and informative.
  • We have a grab & go system in place for easy pickup from our lobby and a reservation system so that students only can use the first floor of the library for study.
  • At the two Texas regional depositories, we have held two virtual check-ins for Texas depositories and posted the Minutes on the TSL page: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ref/fedinfo/index.html
  • Virtual Instruction Sections (For example, I teach several to a nursing class on community assessment resources available via Government documents).
  • Since our staff can only enter the building once a week with pre-registration, we have been saving up reference questions so that we can consult print-only sources on those days. We are finding out just which resources are not yet digitized by GPO or Hathi!
  • Library programs, such as training sessions and a speakers' series have been converted to webinars.
  • We received the COVID safety signage and have used it in our library. The signs are well designed and allow us to have appealing designs with an easy to understand official display of information.
  • For the Library (i.e., internal), I conducted a virtual one-hour workshop on Government Information.
  • We now have the GPO logo and the link to GPO publications on the library's website so that our customers may access Government publications off site.
  • We discontinued professional librarian service at our public service desk when we returned to our library in August 2020, and are trying referrals from student tech assistants to us instead. One librarian served as the night and weekend service desk person, and that lecturer was able to move to Government Documents full time in addition to continuing night and weekend chat service.
  • We have a Health Station at the front door with masks, sanitizer, and gloves for everyone's safety.
  • We have been using Zoom classes lasting 10-15 minutes (with additional time for questions) to inform patrons of various databases. We've included Census and USPTO databases in these presentations.
  • We prepared LibGuides with links to Federal documents so access 24/7 would be available to all parties. COVID-19 was well received. Other LibGuides covered U.S historical documents, elections, and human rights.
  • We implemented remote checkout, added signs asking patrons to send photos of the library barcode to a monitored email, and we check the books out based on their institutional email addresses and the barcodes. I expect we'll keep that in place "after."
  • Online chat service, virtual study rooms, and online seat reservations have all been very effective.
  • I created a presentation to act as a virtual tour/bibliographic instruction for the use of our Government publications collection. This was to replace in-person tours for classes that I hosted in the past.
  • The Free Library has been operating with varied limited public services for the past year. Since mid-March 2020, I have been responding to daily Government and legal ready reference and research questions by email, phone, mail, and chat. From October through November and starting again February, I am also offering in-person research appointments to support access to more specialized Government and legal reference material. I am also anticipating the start of a virtual Know Your Rights series with a local legal clinic.
  • We have implemented a contactless pickup service for tangible library materials.
  • We initially implemented a variety of digital services to cope with our sudden closure and end of the semester remote work environment. We created additional video tutorials, video chat reference, hybrid instructional methods for information literacy and library instruction classes, curbside pickups, and new LibGuides. We successfully reopened with new workflows, and many of the same best practices other libraries implemented like physical distancing, masks, quarantining, abundant signage, cleaning and sanitizing supplies, remote work, traffic flow changes within the library, restricted access to parts of the building, new practices for breaks and gatherings. We also gave reference librarians small timers to better track time with patrons and teacher pointers to assist with one-on-one instruction while maintaining distance. We set up distanced dual-monitor/keyboard systems for longer reference interactions. We worked with our institution to make available for check-out hundreds of laptops, webcams, voice amplification systems, GoPros, and other technology to students, staff, and faculty. Librarians collaborated with campus groups to sponsor and host successful programming and community education events and celebrations. We collaborated with faculty to create new approaches to traditional assignments. Streaming video became an even more important resource, as did LibGuides and in-house created tutorials. The early arrival of the COVID-related posters from GPO, along with the emerging science from the REALM study, provided our small library with valuable support from national sources. It is very useful for us to have this kind of data, information, and advice as part of our research when our stakeholders ask for the reasoning behind our decisions.
  • We've stepped up our participation in answering reference questions from users outside the Purdue community. My Indiana depository colleagues have had two virtual meetings.
  • We continue to quarantine items as they have arrived. Interlibrary loan is receiving books but not sending them out. We have virtual reference services available although our circulation desk still operates limited hours. We also have a student group which is able to inform us of what is working and what is not. That is the biggest recommendation I can make: to get direct feedback from patrons.
  • I put tax forms and Medicare booklets in an upright display on the table for people to take as they're picking up curbside items.
  • We are quarantining materials, reserving study carrels, and conducting virtual reference.
  • The library installed touchless lockers in our main lobby (an area that is never locked) so patrons can request a book through our catalog and pick it up at their convenience from one of these lockers. We also expanding mailing library materials to all patrons, a service that was previously only available to distance patrons (we include pre-paid return shipping labels).
  • We were able to include distributing tax forms in curbside service.
  • Students/community users can request print materials via our Contactless Pick Up service.
  • We now have the eagle symbol connected to the GPO portal on the library's website.
  • We have sanitizing, and materials quarantine protocols that have been approved by our county health department have been successful throughout the pandemic.
  • We have implemented curbside pick-up, patron-driven expanded digitization, and increased flexibility for staff to work at home.
  • We provide virtual reference services across three campuses.
  • Reference librarians worked from home when campus was closed. When we reopened, we limited seating at library tables to enforce physical distancing.

Success Stories

In the March 2021 Survey on COVID-19 Disruptions in Libraries, some of the success stories that were reported include:

  • Our Reference Chat service helps people with everything.
  • Our in-town interlibrary loan program with the public library has been particularly successful and helped mitigate some of the frustration our public patrons feel at being restricted from using library buildings.
  • Curbside service is very popular, and digital resources are soaring.
  • We've accomplished collection management projects that had been waiting in the queue but not possible through telework.
  • We have increased our level of digital materials and have seen a highly increased use of those formats.
  • Colorado Mesa University has done an amazing job at returning to in-person learning by using baseline testing, random testing, keeping the students in "family groups," contact tracing, symptom tracking, requiring a daily "wellness passport" with "Scout" app., requiring new students to take a COVID class, and more. We are even doing wastewater testing! Please check out our website at https://www.coloradomesa.edu/covid-19/index.html.
  • Our appointment-only services have been used regularly and have been more readily accepted by our users than we expected them to be.
  • We have spent increased time answering Government information related questions from users outside Purdue.
  • Virtual programming has become a big game changer for us. We've been able to record the program and actually get more views for the program than we would have for an in-person program.
  • Online chat gives us the ability to screen share, which helps patrons who are both remote and unfamiliar with certain websites. As a public library, we offer this service to all patrons. Online programs have opened the attendee pool, as we can accommodate folks from just about anywhere with a virtual program.covid books
  • We spent some time learning to navigate data.census.gov and did lots of database cleanup (which we had needed to do for years!)
  • We are still working remotely and not receiving or processing any print materials. The pivot to virtual reference, virtual instruction, and a virtual collection (buying eBooks instead of print) has been our biggest success.
  • My virtual programs are extremely successful, especially Social Security 101 and Medicare 101.
  • Telework has been embraced as an alternative if you need it.
  • We were already well-positioned for a shutdown in that most of our depository collection is electronic, and everything is discoverable through our catalog.
  • During COVID, our library never missed a step. We took what we had and kept rolling. We implemented a curbside service and enhanced our online presence, and I am very proud of how our library adapted to the pandemic.
  • One good thing that happened was that I caught up on some work assignments that needed my attention. It helped me focus on what tasks were important.
  • We were able to find Government information for patrons during this public health emergency and found new ways to get that to patrons, be it print and curbside pick-up, email, online chat service, or by phone. We did some of this before but during this unprecedented times we did 30% more.
  • We've successfully implemented home delivery of physical materials for our affiliated patrons.
  • Our library is located in the State House which has been closed to the public for approximately one year now. However, the library has stayed open, assisting people by phone and e-mail. But with no foot traffic due to COVID-19, the FDLP librarian was able to begin a retrospective cataloging project and add hundreds of older items to the catalog. This was also the opportunity to review each record in the catalog (there are thousands), checking existing digital/PURL links and adding links where needed since digital access is now more important than ever.
  • collection libraries to harvest local Government/organization/institutional responses to COVID-19 through Archive-It.
  • The slower depository shipments were actually a relief this semester. We are down a lot of employees, which means I have more responsibilities and less time available for processing.
  • Business as usual for the Government Documents Department since August. The library opened up to University students and personnel, but is still closed for non-USA affiliated patrons. Materials are being processed, LibGuides being updated, reference service for Gov Docs is available for in-house and email requests, and departmental displays are being created.
  • We were able to keep our library open the entire time after reopening in July because of our staffing model that kept individuals distanced, in two distinct pods, and protected from patrons through the insistence of strict adherence to our mask requirement. If front-line staff became weary from mask compliance duty, managers were happy to jump in and do that work.
  • The pandemic has given us the opportunity to augment our online presence facilitating access to Government information resources.
  • Contactless pick up has been very successful. Having access to the Hathi Trust ETAS service has been crucial for digital access.
  • The GPO webinars have been very good at providing additional specialized training. Our regional depository librarian has also made extra efforts to keep in touch and bring selective depositories together via Teams, Zoom, etc.computer mtg
  • Online chat services (Spring Share's LibChat and LibAnswers) have allowed us to send online patrons information in real time as opposed to answering an email. Also, as we were closed to the public but still in the office, staff (both gov docs and other departments) were able to take advantage of several FDLP Academy webinars and others offered from Federal agencies.
  • Our curbside assistance and online video programming have been so successful that we are integrating them permanently into our operations.
  • While we closed the library between mid-March to 30 August 2020, library staff teleworked from home. Library services continued during hours of operations depending on the academic calendar. We handled reference and instruction virtually via chat, Teams, and Zoom. ILL provided materials that were or could be digitized. Staff teleworked until 31 August 2020, when the library reopened to students, faculty, and staff. The institute was closed to visitors. We did not deny anyone Government information if we could provide it virtually. Circulating print materials was suspended until 31 August. Currently, staff have the option to telework. Hours of operations are normal. Print materials are checked out; ILL can borrow print materials and lend our materials to other libraries. GPO was requested to resume sending shipments on 31 August. Staff is processing these materials upon receipt, but we have not gotten everything to date. Overall, our library patrons can expect normal library services unless we experience problems due to COVID-19.
  • Our use of WebEx to help patrons, individually in our "personal" WebEx rooms or meeting with classes, has been very successful. We also have a 24/7 chat service (LibAnswers) and LibWizard tutorials that we prepared for some classes. These tools were available before, but not used as extensively.
  • Our administration gave us the opportunity to be more flexible and provided individuals with laptops to work remotely.
  • Our community has been very grateful for our services while many of the library systems in the state have been closed to the public for a longer time. They have also been very good about following our mask mandate and social distancing guidelines.
  • We were able to pivot quickly to virtual-only services for 5 months. The foundation was already in place (chat services, a web-based ILL system, remote access to the library's ILS, YouTube/social media pages), so we didn't struggle very much when we were suddenly sent home. Presently, our virtual services get way more attention from researchers than the physical facility.

Articles of Interest

Share Your Best Practices, Success Stories, & Lessons Learned

computer mtgGPO wants to share your COVID-19 wisdom with the FDLP community in several ways.

  1. The FDLP Academy is seeking speakers on any topic related to COVID-19 operational changes and lessons learned. Propose your topic, and the FDLP Academy team will work with your availability to schedule a webinar. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to get started.

    Any topic related to the pandemic that you feel could benefit other FDLP librarians is relevant. Some examples include:
    • Adjusting evolving service models.
    • Maintaining public access when the library is physically closed.
    • Best practices for closing and reopening.
    • Implementing safety measures for library staff and patrons.
    • Innovative new services for library patrons.
    • The challenges and opportunities of performing library work remotely.
  2. LSCM seeks to use this platform to continue to share after-action plans, lessons learned, best practices, success stories, and other documents your library has developed. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. your documentation and ideas with GPO.

Thank you for contributing your thoughts and ideas on the COVID-19 shared experience.


Access resources for patrons and administrative information for library staff, as well as infographics and images for your library website.

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