Changes, Core Values, and Strategic Planning: COVID-19 Edition

Change can be hard, and at Iowa City Public Library, working through the impacts of COVID-19 has brought a lot of change. No matter where you fall on the change readiness spectrum, adapting to new realities can be tough. It has been inspiring to watch library staff work together and adjust to the limitations of changing health and safety guidelines while building new service models that reflect emerging restrictions. Seeing our patrons embrace our new service delivery options has been equally exciting. Once again, I am impressed by the flexibility, ingenuity, humor, and dedication of both library staff and users. 

Its important to note that this unexpected closure—something highly unusual in public library service—coincided with the creation of a new ICPL strategic plan.  As emotionally complex as this extended closure has been for library staff, it has provided an opportunity to think carefully about what our core services are, how we design, deliver, and evaluate these services, and how we ensure that we are meeting the diverse and changing needs of our community. This is hard, deep work, and our new strategic plan will focus on reimagining ICPL as we reconnect with our community and fully engage in meaningful dialog about how we can best serve the community.

A significant part of this work will be to critically examine our processes, procedures, and practices through a social justice and equity lens. We will be intentional and strategic in working with black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in our community as we redesign what we offer and how we offer it. We want to take steps to address and reverse the passive observation of, and active contribution to, a shared history of injustice, institutional and systemic racism, and normalization of the casual exclusion of BIPOC from positions of leadership and other meaningful opportunities. We know we will not be able to fix” the social justice issues in our community or the library profession, but we are committed to moving the needle in the ways that we can.

We are fortunate to build on a legacy of strong, practical, values-driven strategic plans. Continuing this tradition means we will anchor our work with our established values of access, belonging, community, intellectual freedom, enjoyment, collaboration, and literacy, even while stretching and growing to serve a community with changing needs. For the next three years, we will focus on renewal from the COVID-19 closure, leaning in and amplifying community aspirations, and employing our resources in a strategic way.   

Right now, the library building remains closed to the public, and safety remains our highest priority. Staff are working hard to offer the best remote services we can. Curbside pickup, mailing materials to patrons, crafts-to-go, virtual programming, phone and chat reference services, and digital collections are used heavily by our patrons. Were glad to accept returns again, and are actively moving toward offering limited access to computers and other technology equipment.

Were doing everything we can to keep our community healthy:

  • Staff and vendors are required to wear a face mask and complete a health self-assessment before entering the building
  • Staff are scheduled in work teams for group work to limit overall exposure
  • We changed the layout of our work areas to accommodate social distancing
  • We are quarantining materials for 72 hours before putting them back on the shelf
  • We have eliminated overdue fines on all materials through the end of the year
  • Our Board of Trustees has established a more frequent meeting schedule specifically focused on reopening plans and the impact of COVID-19 on the library 

We made some physical changes to the building for safety:

  • We installed plexiglass barriers at most service points and places where face-to-face work happens
  • We removed almost all furniture from the public floors to eliminate spaces for lounging and congregating
  • We installed temporary shelving to accommodate changes in item storage
  • We placed social distancing prompts on the floor in high-traffic areas
  • We relocated some work areas throughout the building as needed
  • Hand sanitizer may be found throughout the building  

We set the stage for safe use, but well need your help to maintain the safest possible environment when our building reopens: 

  • We will require face coverings that cover the mouth and nose on all patrons age six or older
  • We ask that people stay home if they have any COVID-19 symptoms
  • We will enforce social distancing practices
  • We encourage express use” of the library in lieu of extended visits.
  • More expectations may be introduced as scientific understanding of COVID-19 transmission advances. Working together, we can minimize risk and keep each other as safe as possible.

We will continue to ask for your feedback as we bring back traditional and try new services. You will see more frequent opportunities to tell us what you think about what were doing as a library. To stay relevant and vibrant, we need to hear from you about what you need and want from your public library. Please take advantage of the information-gathering tools we send out, like surveys, invitations to focus groups, etc., but never feel like you need to wait to share your thoughts, opinions, and ideas.  Reach out to me anytime, with comments, complaints, compliments, questions, suggestions, or just to check in.  I look forward to hearing from you as we evolve as a library and move toward a new future together.

Your patience and support have been a gift throughout the librarys closure. Thank you for hearing and understanding our process, valuing our safety practices, and championing the services we are able to provide safely. It means so much to all of us at the library to know we are still part of your daily lives. We are excited to see and serve you in different ways as we reopen. Stay well!


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