The warmth of the human voice

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With the lockdown, we saw many libraries closed for several months. Those who were not digitally skilled were left behind. Many patrons did not have the means to access an Internet-enabled device. They could not access library websites, email, or receive e-newsletters. Also, they were not familiar with social media platforms to receive notification of closures and re-openings. Therefore, a group of patrons did not know what library services were still available.

Yes. We were swept up in problems of our own when lockdown came into place, and how we quickly forgot about the ones who were left behind — digitally. Some people had lost their jobs. Some had their devices die on them midway during the lockdown. So, how do we provide support to them?

To address this problem, many public libraries decided to pick up the telephone. Each public library used the telephone differently to help keep their patrons feel connected and stay well-informed. Here are some examples to give you a snapshot of what took place in libraries during 2020 lockdown:

  • Yarra Plenty Regional Library (Melbourne, Australia) made ‘caring calls’, where librarians called 8,000 elderly members, asking if they were okay and checking to see if they needed help, before referring them to relevant service providers.
  • Park Ridge Public Library (Illinois, USA) organised a ‘library line’, where anyone could dial-in to hear a pre-recorded song, riddle, or a message from the staff. The library ensured there was a new recording every day. This brought daily cheer to library patrons who only had a landline telephone.
  • Hamburg Public Library (Hamburg, Germany) modified their ‘Medienboten’ outreach project. Instead of volunteers visiting seniors, they rang them over the telephone — reading books and talking to seniors and homebound citizens.
  • ‘Anythink’ Libraries in Adams County (Colorado, USA) reached out to seniors by telephone with the help of 30 volunteers. They informed the seniors about food and information on COVID-19. The volunteers noted most of the patrons missed having a chat with another human, so the telephone calls would go for an hour.

These examples had me thinking about how public libraries used the telephone to stay connected with their elderly patrons, the neighbourly thing to do. Come on and check-in on your neighbour.

Hopefully, one day we can start making such services a standard. Then encourage relevant and sustainable COVID-19-inspired services to spread across libraries, as they have potential.

So, do not go underestimating the power of the telephone and the human voice.

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