The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will not only be measured in terms of health. Around the world, livelihoods are being disrupted by the measures taken in order to prevent the further spread of the disease.
These economic impacts are of course likely the lesser of two evils – and certainly better than letting the virus spread unchecked. They do need attention nonetheless, given that unemployment and poverty also have very real human costs.
In response, governments are starting to develop stimulus packages – programmes of spending to help get people back into work, and indeed build a better future. There is every reason for libraries to be involved in these, beyond any support given to library staff who are put on furlough, or who lose their jobs now.
This blog therefore looks at five ways in which stimulus packages could include libraries. In each case, the focus is on measures which will not only provide short-term relief by helping to preserve jobs and incomes, but which will also have a long-term positive effect.
Suggestion 1: Increase library acquisition budgets in order to increase purchases of books from local bookshops
In an example that has already been implemented in Barcelona, an increase in budgets for library acquisitions will bring immediate benefits to local bookstores (as long as acquisitions models work this way), helping them to survive the crisis. Authors and publishers will also of course benefit. Renewing and refreshing stocks will meant that libraries can offer a wider selection into the future. Such a step would also help those libraries which have had to reallocate funds to buying eBooks in response to demand in the crisis.
Suggestion 2: Support the renovation of library buildings to improve them as spaces for learning and wellbeing
While the construction industry may be one of those able to restart sooner than others, it is likely to suffer in general from any fall in the wider economy. As a result, hiring (ideally local) construction firms to carry out necessary or helpful renovations of library buildings would provide useful work and reduce unemployment. In the longer-term, more attractive, better designed library buildings will be better suited to providing services to support learning and well-being in the community, as well as, hopefully, being more environmentally friendly.
Suggestion 3: Develop skills among those working in libraries to support inclusion effectively
We are unfortunately likely to see a rise in unemployment in many countries as a result of the pandemic, with millions needing to look for new work, potentially requiring new skills and knowledge. Libraries have already developed a strong role in helping people in these situations over the past few years, and are likely to see this become stronger still now. To do so, they will need additional support however, either through receiving training themselves, or through the hiring of new personnel. In both cases, this will mean that they are better placed to help their communities recover into the longer term.
Suggestion 4: Upgrade internet connectivity and access facilities in libraries and beyond
Even in the wealthiest countries, there are still people on the wrong side of the digital divide, lacking the connection, hardware, skills and/or confidence to make the most of the internet. Digital inclusion initiatives can include steps such as improving connectivity to libraries as public access points, installing long-range Wi-Fi technologies so that communities can benefit, renewing terminals and devices (including for lending), and skills programmes. These will all boost employment in the short term (especially if local solutions are used as far as possible), but will also leave individuals and societies better placed to take up new opportunities into the longer term (including if the pandemic returns!). The $50 million allocated to the Institute of Museum and Library Services in the United States, for example, has focused on just this.
Suggestion 5: Supporting cultural programming focused on local creators
The cultural sector has been particularly badly hit by the crisis, at least in those sectors which rely on people being able to travel and come together. With these possibilities gone, and the internet providing only a partial solution, there is a risk that many creators will need to give up on writing or performing completely in order to find other work. Stimulus packages can help prevent this by supporting cultural programming – either online, or eventually in person – associated with libraries. Residencies, courses or other projects can all provide a lifeline to creators, but also mean a richer cultural life in communities, supporting well-being and education for all into the long term.