Association for Rural and Small Libraries Conference – 2021

Joyce Baker, Library Manager, Coolidge Public Library

The fall is always an exciting time because I look forward to the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) Conference. I am incredibly grateful to the Arizona State Library for funding this valuable continuing education. The conference met in Reno, NV this year. While I was apprehensive about going to an in-person conference, I was extremely impressed with precautions taken by both the hotel and the ARSL leadership.

I learned something valuable at every workshop, but the pre-conference workshop stood out to me. It was titled, The Post-Pandemic Library: What Will be Different? This workshop was led by Lauren Stara, an architect and librarian. She is a Library Building Specialist for the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. She focused on how libraries can create a space that provides patrons with vital access to resources yet remains a safe space for all who use the library. She highlighted some activities that libraries implemented during COVID but can probably discontinue such as:

  • Quarantining materials.
  • Frantically scrubbing down spaces after every patron uses it.
  • Limiting access to paper materials such as newspapers and magazines.

She also identified some activities that libraries instituted during the pandemic that they should probably continue to do such as:

  • Limiting the number of people who can participate during in-person programs.
  • Maintaining some distance between computer stations.
  • Offering some programs virtually for those who are not comfortable returning to the library.
  • Keeping some type of safe barrier between patrons and staff.

Lastly she emphasized some things libraries need to start if they aren’t already doing it. These changes will actually INCREASE safety for staff and patrons. Recommendations:

  • Adding HEPA filtration to heating and cooling systems.
  • If libraries are not able to add HEPA filtration to the cooling system, then at least circulate air by adding fans with HEPA filters behind the staff desks.

I want to turn this information into a staff project. Ask staff 1) what one thing did the library introduce that you would like to keep; 2) what one thing are you so READY to stop doing; 3) what one thing are you indifferent to keeping?

The other highlight of the conference was two Keynote speakers. I heard Qian Julie Wang, author of Beautiful Country, tell her story of moving from China to the United States when she was seven-years-old. It was very touching. I immediately put her book on hold and can’t wait to read it. I understand why it has been on the best-sellers list for so long! The other heartrending Keynote presentation was the Latinx Photography Project. They recruited amateur photographers in numerous Latin countries to share their art. The end result was an incredibly stirring video and book that told the stories of the photographers. I hope to be able to bring this program to our community in Coolidge. I think it would resonate well with our residents.

I always return from this conference with a list of ideas to implement in our library. It is without a doubt worth the time to attend!

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