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How libraries are adjusting to the new normal during COVID-19

By Kent Mulcahy
July 31, 2020

Reprinted from Candid Learning.

Hello! I’m Kent Mulcahy, the grants resource librarian at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, one of Candid’s Funding Information Network (FIN) partners.

As I type this, my senior pitbull, Frances, is adorably snoring loudly beside me. Her nasal passage issues and the resulting constant background noise, for the last four months, have replaced the standard library workplace sounds I’ve come to expect. It’s going to be weird adjusting back to the sounds of paper rustling, the beeping of checkout machines, and general sharing of a workplace with creatures that aren’t dogs again, whenever that happens in full.

As many of you are in the same position of working from home at your respective organizations because of the coronavirus (COVID-19), I’m sure you understand the many challenges working from home imposes. So in this post, I wanted to give you a look into how libraries and librarians in general have met one of the biggest challenges of their careers: to maintain the same level of personalized and prompt service to meet the public’s need for reliable, vetted, and free information during an unprecedented period of crisis.

Boiled down to the most basic and standard librarianship job duties, here’s a taste of what we do under normal circumstances: answer reference/research questions, offer readers’/listeners’ advisory, and help people find and check out books. Working from home, research and reference questions are done by phone, email, and 24/7 chat services. Via the same methods, we’re still constantly recommending great new items to customers looking for unfamiliar treasures (for example, you should absolutely listen to the new Jay Electronica album, “A Written Testimony,” which is available through Hoopla, a streaming music, movie, and book service provided by most libraries). As far as searching for and checking out items, we now help customers navigate the world of eBooks and audiobooks. Many of our customers who have resisted making the jump to digital materials have turned to librarians for help getting quickly up to speed on what the hubbub’s all about, as electronic materials are now the most convenient and safe way to take advantage of libraries.

So, great … We've established that libraries and librarians in general have stayed super busy and admirably risen to the challenge. What’s changed for the “FINs” that help you with your grant and nonprofit questions, as well as offer up tips and tricks for best harnessing the power of the Foundation Directory Online (FDO)? As mentioned earlier, “FIN” stands for “Funding Information Network,” and the librarian systems that provide access to Candid’s wealth of resources are called “Funding Information Network partners.”

Similarly to how I listed the basic job duties of librarians in general, let’s list what grant resource librarians did in the “before times” of in-person services:

  • Nonprofit/grant-related classes and events
  • Presentations in partnership with community organizations, both inside and outside of their given libraries
  • Email/phone/chat assistance with information and help requests
  • One-on-one appointments for things like FDO in-depth help
  • Undergraduate scholarship search assistance

Now, let’s look at what we’ve been doing since the pandemic threw all we thought we knew about our jobs right out the window:

  • Nonprofit/grant-related classes and events
  • Presentations in partnership with community organizations, both inside and outside of their given libraries
  • Email/phone/chat assistance with information and help requests
  • One-on-one appointments for things like FDO in-depth help
  • Undergraduate scholarship search assistance

See what I did there? Nonprofits are really in need right now, so grant librarians know they can’t let a lack of access to their physical workplaces stop them from helping their communities. Since the closure of the Cincinnati Public Library’s buildings, we’ve only canceled three scheduled grant and nonprofit classes, which were originally slated to take place in March shortly after we shut our doors. All other classes and joint presentations with community partners have been held through platforms such as Zoom (yes, my “Zoom shirt” game is strong … don’t judge me!). Since March 13, we’ve answered well over 300 emails regarding grant, nonprofit, and scholarship information and assistance. We’ve utilized Zoom for one-on-one FDO sessions, as the screen-sharing function allows for the same level of clarity in explaining the limitless features of the database, and customers have responded extremely positively.

Hopefully, you’ve all been taking advantage of your own FIN partner location and their Candid-powered resources remotely during this ongoing challenging time. No matter where you are, someone’s probably nearby who can help, and each and every one of us feel privileged to do so. Candid even has an “Ask Us” online service that allows you to talk to their team of expert librarians to get answers to your fundraising and other nonprofit-related questions in real time.

If you’re interested in joining the FIN program or want to learn more about the global network of over 400 libraries, community foundations, and other nonprofit resource centers, click here.

Tags: Funding Information Network (FIN); Libraries; Novel coronavirus (COVID-19)