Hard Pivoting: COVID-19 and Outreach Services


By: Rebecca Brown, Outreach Services Librarian, Ketchikan Public Library

As a 6-foot-tall kid, I played basketball. Maybe that’s why “hard pivot” is how I keep describing this last year of library outreach.

When COVID-19 first broke, I had just celebrated my first anniversary as the outreach services librarian at the Ketchikan Public Library. It had been a blissful first year: off-site library programs galore! Materials were distributed at homeless shelters, women’s shelters, and a youth detention facility. Senior center programs – National Quilt Day! National Wildflower Week! Weekly Read-Alouds! – were a snap. Agencies gleefully threw open their doors. I had just started a read-aloud at the prison during my weekly visits there.

I especially relished delivering materials to homebound patrons – those few minutes of in-person time mean the world to the patrons.

Then COVID. Thankfully, our Southeast Alaska library sits on a rocky island that receives some of the most rainfall in the nation – we understand hard pivots!

Rebecca Brown holding a sign that says I miss seeing you, yes you!"

Our Children’s Services Division sprang into action with online programming for kids and babies on social media. A book club for tweens à la Zoom quickly received a solid following. Several staffers created dozens of DIY videos from sewing projects to baking cakes to fun crafts for kids and adults. “Maker bags” were distributed to kids, then teens and adults, containing at-home crafts. Little jars stuffed with treats for kids were hidden scavenger-hunt style throughout the community.

Our library director began short story read-alouds on Facebook each week. Our staff started a weekly 30-minute radio show reading public domain stories via our beloved public radio station, KRBD. We took staff photos of ourselves in isolation with messages for our patrons to be shown on social media.

The list goes on and on, but you get the idea.

That said, almost none of my outreach patrons have reliable internet access to watch online programs (it’s prohibited at the prison and several of my seniors proudly choose no internet), but we stayed in touch via phone calls. Almost all of these individuals and agencies still received deliveries “ding-dong-ditch” style. Next to no contact was made, but library materials were distributed right to their doors or available for pickup. Our adult and children’s divisions also generously shared maker bags with our senior housing residents.

Whew. Hard pivot indeed, with maybe some three-pointers made along the way.

I am halfway to full vaccination, and I dreamily think of when I may be able to visit our local senior citizen homes again. Who knows what that might look like or when it will occur. Either way, watching our entire staff morph into superhero outreach mode for our whole community has truly been a marvel.