Distanced, but Connected: Ways to Reach Your Whole Community

What a strange time we are living in. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a bit lonely and disconnected. Working in a small-town library can be rather isolating in itself, but when you’re cut off from your community, it’s easy to feel rather irrelevant.

With everyone stuck at home, is there even a way for library staff to connect with people? The answer is yes! I rounded up some out-of-the-box ideas for reaching patrons via social media. plus a few offline ideas for those who don’t have an internet connection.

A child hanging a painting of a rainbow inside a window
With most libraries closed and patrons stuck at home, it might take new strategies to reach your community.

Lighthearted social media posts are important ...

If you're in charge of your libary's social media channels, be a voice for information AND levity. Make sure you’re not only sharing links to information on COVID-19; while those posts are helpful, your followers are probably overwhelmed with all the virus news. Keep many of your posts light and fun.

  • #BookFace photos are a way to get creative! Encourage patrons to take their own.
  • Book Dominoes: Post a video of book dominoes falling around the library building (if you are allowed inside).
  • Unusual Holidays: There are so many! Promote unusual holidays like Shrimp Scampi Day (coming up soon!).
  • Day in the Life: Even though the library isn’t open, your patrons would still love to see you tidying your office, making a new flannel board for your next online story time, or rearranging the children’s area. Sneak peeks behind the scenes of the public library is interesting to librarians and non-librarians alike!
  • Animal videos: Literally any animal, doing literally anything. It will probably get more likes than your last three posts combined. 

... And so are posts that focus on community

Let your community know how much you miss and support them with posts highlighting:

  • Patrons: Choose a patron to spotlight. Share a photo (with permission, of course!) and come up with a few sentences about them and what the library means to them.
  • You! Your staff members, your board members, your city council members, your pets.
  • Local businesses: They’re really struggling right now and would appreciate the shout-out. 
  • Milestones: Life keeps going, even during a pandemic. Share a staff member/favorite patron’s birthday or a local business’ anniversary.

Host creative contests online

Host online contests or challenges to spark up a little friendly competition between your patrons.

  • Lego challenge: Share a specific shape or object for followers to build with their own Legos, then share some to your page. 
  • Art contest: Have contestants upload their creations and post them to your library page. Your followers could vote on which one they love the most, and the artist with the most “likes” could win a small prize.
  • Community-wide scavenger hunt: Make a list of things to find or collect, then have participants share a photo of their findings to your page. You could also do a community-wide rock-painting program, where participants paint rocks, then hide them around town. (Advise rock-finders not to touch the rocks to avoid any possible virus transmission — just find them around town and take a pic.)


Get creative with your livestreams

We all love online story time, but try to spice up your offerings. All of these ideas could also be done on your regular social media page; they don’t necessarily have to be live.

  • Reader’s advisory in real time: Ask viewers/readers what they’re currently reading, then suggest a few titles that you think they’d love.
  • Trivia night: If you’re sad that you won’t be able to have that Friends-themed trivia night this spring (Me. It’s me. I’m sad.), consider doing it online instead. Who was Joey and Chandler's TV Guide addressed to, you ask? Answer: "Ms. Chanandler Bong." Keep score if you’d like, then give out prizes once the quarantine’s over. You could also order a prize or gift card to be sent to your winner.
  • Lazy book club from home: So what if you’re not all reading the same book? Just like you, many of your patrons are probably craving conversation. Discuss whatever book you’re currently reading, why you would/would not recommend it, and talk about what you’re going to read next.
A photo of windows with Spongebob Squarepants characters painted on.
Our first themed window was SpongeBob SquarePants-themed. We followed it up with Super Mario.

Think of your offline patrons, too

Since not all of your patrons will have internet access, it’s important to try out some offline ideas as well. 

  • "We miss you" parade: In my community, teachers and school staff recently participated in a parade of sorts around town. They drove their cars slowly, waving and honking their horns and holding up painted signs saying “We miss you!” It brought tears to my eyes to see how much the kids loved seeing their teachers. I’m sure they would be just as excited to see their friendly neighborhood librarian.
  • Costume parade: Since our library usually has an Easter egg hunt, I decided to do a similar “parade” for kids in my community. My ever-so-patient husband dressed up in an Easter Bunny costume, sat in the back of our open hatchback, and waved at everyone while I slowly drove around each street in our (tiny) town. The kids were, of course, thrilled to see the Easter Bunny, but what touched me even more were the adults. We were a pleasant surprise, and their faces just lit up when they saw us.
  • Window/chalk drawings: Another trend in my community is window drawings. Some families have been putting rainbows, hearts and teddy bears in their windows for others to see when they go on walks or bike rides. My husband and I started with a SpongeBob-themed window, then a Super Mario one. Kids love it, and it’s fun to see people walk by and do a double-take. Chalk drawings would be fun to try as well!
  • Take-and-make crafts: Some libraries are planning to do some make-and-take craft and STEM projects for their summer reading program. A word of caution: while I think this is a great idea, it's critical to avoid physical contact with those who pick up the kits, and be sure to wear gloves or frequently sanitize when you’re putting the kits together. For some other ideas for this strange version of summer reading we are most likely going to have, join the Imagine Your Story SRP 2020 Facebook group.

Do you have other ideas to connect with your patrons? If so, share them in the comments or email me. Stay healthy and stay safe — we’ll get through this together.