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Find more Notes from the Field
Welcome to Notes from the Field, or what I like to call “When Life Gives Libraries Lemons, Staff Both Steer And Steady The Ship.” Still working on that title, to be honest.
In the early stages of the stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19, social media was rife with folks realizing that, even if they didn’t go into the building, they could still check out stuff from their libraries. Wow! Of course, this was not news to folks in LibraryLand, but it did mean that staff had to hustle to meet new demands on the collection.
Michelle Morris of the Fort Worth Public Library (TX) spoke to me about how collection usage has changed, how she kept up with demand—including the demands of opening a new branch—and what she’s been reading.
Susan: Hello, Michelle! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your library.
Michelle: Fort Worth Public Library (FWPL) has sixteen branches that serve a city of over 900,000 people. I’ve been a Collection Development Librarian for over four years, and I currently order adult materials, Spanish materials, and graphic novels for all ages.
Susan: The pandemic has affected how a lot of libraries serve the public. What have been some of the changes at FWPL?
Michelle: I was able to work from home when the pandemic shut-downs began. The library had recently implemented a no-fines policy, so when we closed the branches on March 13th, patrons didn’t have to worry about overdue items.
Over the course of a month, our circulation of e-books and e-audiobooks took off. Before the pandemic, our circulation was about twenty percent digital and eighty percent print and physical media. By June, the circulation had flipped to eighty percent digital and twenty percent physical, with over 3,000 checkouts a day in Overdrive. This was up even more from 2,553 daily digital checkouts on average in May.
The first thing we did was to buy more e-books and e-audiobooks in Overdrive to give people new reading material. We also added more curated lists of topical interest like baking, activities for kids, etc. As the shut-down stretched into summer, we made room for the curated lists for the Mayor’s Summer Reading challenge. For the adults, this included books on Texas cooking, journaling, and hobbies. There were also separate lists for teens and for children.
Programming moved online with events like storytime and Learn.Dream.Do on Youtube. We also hosted a Stay At Home Book Club on our Facebook page, and a weekly series of librarian recommendations called What Fort Worth Reads. We would then create lists in Overdrive for relevant materials related to our programs.
On May 18th, FWPL started curbside service at five of our branches. Throughout June, we expanded curbside to almost all locations. Currently six branches are open for browsing and computer use, with safety precautions in place. Most patrons use curbside pick-up and our digital collection currently.
Susan: Did you find that you had to beef up any areas of the collection?
Michelle: The switch to mostly digital also came with adding more materials related to child rearing and hobbies like cooking. People also wanted to read more of their favorite authors, so we bought more copies of the backlist by prolific popular authors like James Patterson and Nora Roberts. There was an increase in romance and upbeat comfort reading, but also in horror.
Susan: You also opened a new branch during the pandemic, which must have been…interesting. How did you handle the opening day collection? Was the selection process different from how it might have been during less unprecedented times?
Michelle: Yes, we had to prepare for a new branch opening in the summer—the Golden Triangle branch opened on August 18, 2020. It was unusual not just because of the pandemic but because of problems with construction, so the opening was delayed by two years and the community was greatly anticipating the event. We had ordered the books, DVDs, and Blu-rays, and the collection was waiting at the downtown central branch for that long.
As we got closer to actually opening, we had to shelve the collection. It was an opportunity to see my co-workers and meet some of the staff for that branch. It was surprisingly easy to stay six feet apart while shelving the materials. We took a labelled box and worked in that specific area, and another staff member would work in an area an aisle or two away.
Now the Collection Development Librarians are doing an opening day collection for Reby Cary, a children’s branch that will open this spring. It will be smaller than Golden Triangle, with more room for story time and activities for youth. There are graphic-novel collections for teens and children, a Spanish-language collection for children, and a small adult collection that is mostly about parenting. I am helping order some of the children’s non-fiction.
Susan: Did you learn anything about your collection or your patrons’ borrowing habits that you think you’ll take into post-pandemic life?
Michelle: Clearly there is a large shift to more people using Overdrive, so we have to consider the balance between digital and physical collections. We have greatly cut back on CDs and audiobooks and are looking at digital music options, but it looks like patrons go elsewhere for that. We have stopped ordering Playaways and books on MP3 because e-audiobooks are more popular. DVDs and Blu-Rays still circulate, but without as much new material, we are looking at digital options in this area, too.
We have also rearranged our fiction collection. We noticed a surge in romance circulation, so we expanded that area and integrated hardcover and trade paperback into a collection with mass market paperback. We are also expanding our horror collection because we also noticed a surge in requests in horror books (Stephen King, Josh Malerman, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, etc.), and they are getting pulled out of the general fiction collection into their own area.
We have greatly cut back on ordering magazines and fotonovelas because there has been so little patron browsing. Overdrive expanded their e-magazine collection, and we are promoting that. We will look more closely at our magazine spending after the pandemic is over.
Susan: We gotta talk about books. Have your reading habits changed? Have you read anything that brought comfort or hit differently or was just great in some way?
Michelle: In the beginning of the pandemic, my concentration was shot, and I spent too much time doom scrolling. [Ed. note: #relatable] Before, when I would experience reading slumps, I would try different genres or formats. I went back to reading my manga and comic book collections for comfort, then I added poetry, and finally I finished a novel. It was The Book of Little Axe by Lauren Francis-Sharma, which our online book club was reading for Libraries Transform Book Pick. Getting immersed in a historical setting and the lives of the characters reminded me why I enjoyed reading.
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