Public Librarians Are Working, Making Plans While Facing an Unknown Future | SLJ COVID-19 Survey

Youth services librarians at public libraries around the country have been adjusting to pandemic closures and trying to plan for future programming amid many unknowns, including budgets, according to SLJ's recent survey.

Youth services librarians at public libraries around the country have been adjusting to pandemic closures and trying to plan for future programming amid many unknowns.

SLJ conducted the Youth Services in Public Libraries COVID-19 Response Survey from April 23 to May 5 and received responses from 570 public librarians. The survey queried respondents about how they are spending most of their time, collaborations with schools and outside organizations, material purchases, and plans for summer reading programs

Results show that the majority of respondents (more than 70 percent) are working remotely from home, about 7 percent are going to work and doing their jobs in library buildings that are closed, and nearly 19 percent are doing a combination of the two. Less than one percent have been reassigned to jobs outside of the library, including those positions dealing with disaster response.

Librarians are grappling with how to take the always-popular summer reading programs virtual and what to do about social distancing and disinfecting books and common areas when libraries reopen to the public.

As everyone struggles to find ways in which libraries can help meet the growing needs of their communities, librarians tell very different stories of how work is going right now—from the support of administrators and summer planning to simply being given the tools needed to do the job virtually, such as laptops.

At many libraries, respondents report regular video calls and continued attempts to stay creative and collaborate to meet the needs of young patrons.

Read: What Are Librarians Doing to Support Students During Shutdown | SLJ COVID-19 Survey

"We are having weekly virtual meetings to make sure we are all staying on task," wrote one respondent. "We keep close contact with each other and share ideas and thoughts we have on providing as many services we can while the building is closed."

Some librarians, however, feel not only alone but discouraged from even trying to create programming. When asked how administrators were supporting them in their jobs, one respondent wrote, "Not at all. We cannot record any storytimes or other programming, nor can we offer live streaming interactive storytimes or programs. We are basically told to watch webinars."

Another reported an improving situation as time went on. "We've been slow to get off the ground, but they are supporting our mental health and encouraging staff to try new things."

Read: Summer Reading Programs Going Virtual This Year | SLJ COVID-19 Survey

Public librarians are also wondering about next year's budget. While they don’t know for sure, more than half of respondents (54 percent) are expecting youth services budgets to decrease for the 2020-21 fiscal year. On the bright side, 45 percent expect no change in their youth services budget.

As for spending right now, the survey found:

  • Twenty-seven percent of respondents are placing orders for books and other resources as usual during the closure. 
  • Twenty-nine percent is placing orders but shifting spending priorities, almost exclusively toward e-resources
  • Nine percent have had their materials budgets frozen.


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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (, @karayorio) is senior news editor at School Library Journal.

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