Libraries have felt the brunt of the global pandemic
In countries like Italy, Singapore, USA and the UK, libraries are now serving as centers for distributing mobile technology to the digitally needy; collaborating with schools and food donation sites; using their maker-technology to produce personal protective equipment; serving as facilitators for reemployment-assistance applications and facilitating the homeless population with alternatives for shelter; providing online knowledge resources for patrons and many more practicalities.
What was supposed to be an existential situation, is eventually redefining the role of libraries with the public, schools, businesses, and government.
Crisis like these can be redefining moments and with close collaboration, technology, and digital transformation, public libraries in Pakistan can break free of their old mold and have an overhaul, which is long-due. It is a pity that very few public libraries have any online services and have remained closed, but that could change with collaboration between volunteers, NGOs and the government.
Digital adoption in learning
COVID19 has done more to advance digital adoption in learning and a break through corporate and cultural resistance that any other event so far in this century. However this adoption of online learning has not been without its problems of access, availability and quality. Libraries in Pakistan can be the facilitating link that can work with school systems and tech companies to identify the gaps in how schools deliver their distance learning to their students.
Many universities and families in rural and urban areas, lack the hardware or internet access or familiarity with technology to properly utilize the virtual mode of learning. As a public place, libraries located in far-flung locations can offer more connectivity through Wi-Fi hotspots and provide tech help to guide novice users through the process of distance learning and applying for jobs.
Access to Micro-credentials
A major crisis which is brewing is in regards to increased unemployment, especially in the youth. This can be addressed to some extent by continuing education and access to Micro-credentials (mini-degrees or certifications in a specific topic area). I have been a member of the Houston Public Library, since 2003 and their library card offers a variety of continuing education options.
With this card, I have access to a wide range of Micro-credentials pay sites like Lynda.com, Udemy, Kanopy, etc. along with hundreds of online resources and databases including read-along picture books on Tumblebooks.com and language learning programs like Pronunciator. With a little dedicated effort, our libraries could also negotiate with such sites and online resources and contribute to expanding the repertoire of knowledge and skills in our youth.
COVID-19 is not an existential question for libraries
COVID-19 is not an existential question for libraries, but it has provided us the pause to look at the vision and mission of our libraries and hopefully alter our methods. We also need to rethink how libraries will serve their communities once they open their physical doors again.
Issues around sanitization of books and places, the different contact-free modes of services, working hours, activities for kids, need to be thought over. To thrive in this new reality, our current reality calls for responsible leadership and libraries need to adapt, engage and be more proactive and responsive.
The author is a senior research officer at COMSATS University’s centre for policy studies. The views expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.