(During Denver Public Library's unprecedented, indefinite closure due to COVID-19, WHG librarians, archivists, catalogers, and shelvers are faced with a monumental task: maintain library operations without the actual library. We're up to the task and wanted to share our work stories with our WHG customers in an ongoing series of blogs.
The fifth installment comes from Reference Librarian Sarah Ganderup, who describes how she maintains the department’s social media* in the face of these unique times.)
March 15, 2020, was a unique day for all of us working the Western History and Genealogy (WHG) Sunday shift. We knew that the library would close the following day and this would be one of our last chances to get some last-minute materials we might need for an indefinite period working from home. Like my fellow librarians, I grabbed books for reference and professional development as well as clipping files for research on the blogs that I had been planning. But there was something else sending me scurrying all over.
I found myself frantically taking photographs in our vault and closed shelving areas for another part of my job in WHG - social media. I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss a #tinytuesday, #weirdphotowednesday, or #fridaydimeday while we were closed, even though I had no idea how long that might be. Also, as exciting as our digital collections are, I knew that I wanted to feature some tactile items during the weeks of virtual living.
As we adapted our services to a stay-at-home lifestyle, social media developed a newfound importance for us. You may have noticed from some of our other Work From Home blogs that connecting with our researchers is a major part of why we do what we do. And social media has always been about connecting to researchers, book lovers, and history buffs (even when they don’t realize it)!
Even before the closure, we had a sense of the importance of social media. From reaching out to customers who might never normally step through our doors to showing off items in the collection that might not normally be requested, we can share discoveries, start conversations, and spark curiosity. I love the informality of social media. It lets us poke fun at ourselves and our materials, while also loving and respecting the community, the materials, and the history behind both. We can also acknowledge how our lives have changed without wallowing in the sorrow of it (#keepcalmanddenveron).
COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders don’t change any of that. They make those discoveries a little bit more challenging and put an added load on our digital collections for content, but we’re still having fun and finding comfort in our collections and our connections. We can also use our long view to put current events (tomorrow’s history) into perspective and document impacts on our city’s businesses.
This time has also given me a greater chance to experiment with our social media. We had a March Madness-style tournament for our vault items to decide which might be on display (planned before COVID-19 was even a thought in our minds); while the display might have to wait, we tested out formats for inviting more responses and ideas. You also might have seen us posting more to Twitter; that was a plan for this year, but COVID-19 helped accelerate it. We’re also connecting more with other Denver Public Library campaigns, such as #IHeartDPL.
With the increase in our social media presence, I’ve also been able to tap into the expertise of my coworkers. We’ve tried out new styles and adapted old ideas to create series such as #otd (on this day) in Colorado history and juxtapositions of life 100 years ago and today. Some of what we’ve done has “blown up” as they say (we even got national play from CNN.com), while others whimpered into obscurity. And that’s okay.
Trying things out helps us tap into the minds of our online followers, and it will help us down the road too. We can use this investment in social media right now to streamline our work, to provide the best content when our other duties are back up and running full-speed. If you’re interested in something in particular, just reach out and we will do our best to deliver!
One of my favorite things to do on social media is to invite an excited reader to come see a piece in person. I love that we are a special collections department where rare and beautiful materials are available to anyone without an appointment, seven days a week. I can’t wait to be able to say that again, but until that day, see you online!
*In this context, social media is specifically referring to the big three (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), but we’re reaching out elsewhere as well. In fact, this blog post is a form of social media! As are our newsletter (sign up in the box on the right!) and YouTube videos.