Lockdown made our library better

Lockdown made our library better

My name is Marion Tessier and I work at Kingston Libraries. 

This year has been really stressful but also very exciting. I had the opportunity to use skills I developed before but never got to use for concrete projects, as well as learning new skills and discovering new tools and resources. 

My biggest challenge in terms of my job was to stay relevant and continue to provide a service online for our customers. I have seen so many library services just disappear due to lockdown, both in France and England, and I am so proud of what we achieved. Even if not everything worked out the way we wanted to, whether it was in terms of attendance or technical problems, we always managed to find a solution and to take something from everything we did, either a new skill, a new way to work together or a new tool to develop in future projects. I think the best side of all that is that we are already thinking about the future and creating hybrid events, both digital and physical, and new ways to interact with our customers in the future. 

At Kingston Libraries, we’ve been quick to start on a digital programme, even before we closed the libraries. We wanted to stay in touch with our users, support local residents and continue to offer a diverse range of activities for everyone. It all started with our first ever live streamed rhyme time (the first in the country!), and we got an amazing response from the public and library staff. Eight months later, we have more than 350 original videos, 100 000 views on social media, more than 100 interactive events and countless great interactions with our customers.

Starting from this original event, we found a way to reinvent our way of working. We allowed more space for individual skills and experimentation. It was really interesting for me to coordinate all the projects and work with so many new people and partners. I used to be scared of managing a team or project, but this year I have really built my confidence. It was absolutely amazing to discover the many skills and talents of colleagues I had for several years but never got to work with in the way we did. I think the main thing I will take away from all of this is how awesome and creative librarians can be when you create a space to experiment, time to develop new projects and resources to apply them.

One of our colleagues, for instance, decided to subtitle all our videos and created procedures to make sure our original content was as inclusive as possible. Another member of staff who was really involved in our digital offer created an amazing space with our Digital Book Group and managed to gather previous attendees and new members for bi-monthly Zoom discussions. 

With very few resources available, we worked together, building on each other's ideas and shared skills. An example of this amazing work would be our Alvisbot project. In partnership with Shared Enterprise, we organised a staff idea competition. The winner was Alvisbot, a database of digital inclusion tutorial, covering the basis of computing, as well as some specific videos on how to access vital Kingston Council services. Our only resources were the skills and ingenuity of our team. We are lucky to have librarians who are efficient in video editing, voice over, digital tutorials, but we also capitalised on having colleagues coming from different countries who translated the videos into Italian, French, Korean and Spanish for our non-English speaking residents. More languages will be added as we progress this project.

It is also amazing to hear the feedback from our residents and library users. One of our users said “All of you at the library have gone above and beyond keeping us avid readers occupied over the past 2 months. I'm extremely grateful that we have such dedicated and talented librarians.”

Now that we have a great programme and that our customers know about it, we are focussing on becoming more relevant to our residents. In the last few months, we reached a population that we could never have reached otherwise. We had participants from the United States and Finland joining our events, which was really interesting for us, but we are now working on different ways to refocus our efforts on local residents. One example of this effort is our new virtual job club, created at the end of the year to replace our usual physical job club, where we welcome a new guest speaker every week to talk about various employment topics, from writing a CV, to where to find pertinent job information, and even wellbeing sessions to manage your stress before a job interview. 

Another great example of our digital programme is all the events created for the first phase of our library review. We wanted to engage and gather ideas from the community, partners, and staff. We tried to approach it in a fun, interactive way, and, on top of the usual public engagement, we created engaging social media posts, a poetry chain about the library of the future that was really popular on Twitter, interactive storytelling and writing events with different partners such as Mencap, and an interactive escape room, where we managed to capture the participants thoughts about the future.of libraries, and especially Kingston Libraries services. 

Seeing how far we have come with our digital offer, we wanted to share with other libraries, but were also eager to learn about how library staff all over the country coped with the situation and what offer they created. This led to the organisation of the first ever Digital Events Bootcamp, in partnership with Libraries Connected in November, where eight libraries all around the country delivered digital events workshops to more than 350 library staff. The programme included how to create a digital escape room, use Minecraft in libraries, and how to create craft videos. This bootcamp was a huge success!

So we have learnt and enjoyed a great deal from delivering services and engaging with the community in 2020 and very much looking forward to innovation in 2021. It was a difficult year for everybody but in terms of my job, I absolutely had a brilliant year, developed events and projects I never thought I would have time to work on, and it was really good to have this space to innovate and try new things.

Marion Tessier has been a public librarian for the last ten years in France and England. She specialises in cinema, board games, video games and digital in libraries.