A New Chapter in Library Operations
Newly hired Health Sciences Librarian Jamia Williams as well as Brockport alum Kasey Rovito '09 are working to creatively adapt to the impact of COVID-19 on their library-based professions.
When the social effects of COVID-19 began to hinder Kasey Rovito '09 from executing her usual children's programming in her role as the youth services coordinator for the Avon Free Library, she took on a critical task: problem-solving.
It's a task she says all librarians are currently undertaking in an effort to offer safe alternatives to traditionally in-person services that support learning and literacy in their communities.
Jamia Williams, who recently became a health sciences librarian in Drake Memorial Library at SUNY Brockport, is one of those problem-solvers.
"One of the differences in my role this semester is that I [am] teaching exclusively online," said Williams, who is a liaison to the Departments of African and African-American Studies, Biology, Health Science/Healthcare Studies, Nursing, and to the McNair Program. "I am creating more videos so that students and faculty will have access to instruction content. Normally, I would attend a class in person then add content to Blackboard. I think this change will increase my knowledge and ability to be an online instructor and provide greater access to library resources and my expertise."
Video content has also been a staple in Rovito's adapted approach to educating a much younger population. Her storytimes and songs are among the content streamed on the Avon Free Library Facebook page, which also features real-time doodles, arts and crafts, and much more performed by library staff. Her web conferences serve as a temporary substitution for her pre-COVID "Early Literacy Story Time" program, which was offered to children under the age of five, along with their caregivers/parents, twice per week inside the library. She hopes the videos offer a sense of "normalcy and security" for the families she serves.
Associate Professor and Chair of Sociology Denise Copelton says her family is among those who have benefitted from Rovito's substitute format for children's supplemental learning.
"Kasey and the Avon library have been lifelines for my kids during the pandemic. She keeps us busy with her book series suggestions for my oldest daughter," said Copelton. "She's now almost done with the Emily Windsnap series!"
Rovito was pleased that her regulars, like the Copelton family, were willing to try the new format. Even more pleasing — and surprising — to her were the number of new learners she gained from sharing her programs digitally.
"Other people, some of them not part of the Avon community, found the videos," said Rovito, who studied English, focusing on literature, at Brockport. "I hope they did their part to buoy morale and provide something fun and positive." She noted that some publishers have loosened their copyright rules in order to facilitate digital sharing.
As an incentive for the children she calls "reluctant readers" to participate in her digital programs, Rovito has worked to gamify them, incorporating the opportunity for the children to earn digital badges and accrue points on a digital game board or when they log their minutes spent reading.
Wondering how she would continue to offer special events was a more challenging question. Collaboration was the answer. Partnerships with local presenters and community members came in the form of Zoom presentations (such as BrainDance with Benjamin Berry), a ttRPG via Roll20.net (with Dan Stacy of Avenue Studios), a watercolor painting video (with another library staff member), a story writing workshop video series (with Brockport alum and owner of LadyBeast Creative Kelly Deltoro-White '20), custom videos (with local author Rafe Martin), a pick-up craft kit day complete with Lunchables donated by Kraft Heinz, and a socially distanced life-sized Clue game with a fairy tale spin.
Williams emphasizes that one of the best ways for librarians to make an impact, especially now, is by raising awareness that educational offerings can extend "outside of the physical space."
"We all have access to an enormous amount of information, which can be overwhelming," said Williams. "My job is to help guide information seekers on their journey." A member of the organization WeHere, which supports Black, Indigenous, and people of color who are librarians and archivists, Williams worked with students in an African and African-American Studies course this semester to share library resources for a project that explores Rochester’s Black agenda.
While Rovito admits that she misses some of the hallmarks of librarianship, including shared social spaces, shared materials, and open doors, the chance to try new things brings a degree of excitement into an era of difficulties and unknowns.
"I feel like someone threw the deck of cards into the air, and it leaves so much space to experiment and reimagine," she said.