Public libraries balancing virtual, physical services

MANDEVILLE, Manchester — With users falling to under 500,000 in the past year as a direct result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Jamaica Library Service (JLS) is making a determined effort to increase its virtual service across the country.

JLS Senior Director Kishma Simpson told the Jamaica Observer that students who are currently struggling to access online learning are encouraged to use the services of a public library closest to them.

However, because of the need to apply protocols such as social/physical distancing aimed at reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus, Simpson says those who wish to visit libraries in person are being encouraged to call first to make an appointment.

“Where we have users that might [want] to come into the space for an extended period of time — three to four hours — we encourage all those people to call ahead,” said Simpson.

She explained that the small size of some branch libraries meant that some would have to limit the number of walk-in users, and in some cases people may have to wait before gaining entrance.

“Our libraries are dispersed islandwide and they vary in size and that informs the capacity. If you happen to turn up [and] you have to wait we observe the protocols,” she said.

She noted that the 112 public library locations saw 1.7 million users for the period 2019 to 2020, compared to 500,000 for the past year. However, over the last 12 months there was a 50 per cent increase in online demand.

She said the JLS “reconfigured and determined” its virtual and walk-in services while being closed for three months during the onset of COVID-19.

The virtual services offered by the JLS include homework assistance; ask a librarian live chat; access to data catalogue; registration; and the use of WhatsApp.

Simpson said the JLS is currently supporting online learning with electronic devices and Internet access available at most locations.

“We would have been offering, before COVID, free access to the Internet [using our] computers. With the onset of COVID we would have adjusted to [adhere] to the protocols in offering the service to the public, particularly with the interest in supporting virtual learning,” she said.

When asked about the future of the JLS balancing face-to-face and virtual services, Simpson said the two will continue to co-exist.

“In a short space of time the library will not be totally digital and even if there was no COVID [it] will never be totally digital in any library across the globe. Even before [the current circumstances] libraries operated in a virtual and physical space. It is not new; it is just expanding. The demand for [both] services will continue to exist,” she said.

“We will continue to build on those two platforms as we move into the Fourth Industrial revolution,” she added.


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