Tuesday, May 12, 2020


The last day I was at school teaching was March 13th. That Friday
was a long day of teachers, parents, and administrators exchanging worried glances and wondering what was going to happen next. At least, that’s all that I can remember now. The next thing I recall was the County Executive making the announcement that would mean the closure of schools, businesses, movie theaters, the mall, the library...

It was a long list. 

Something I noticed right away was how the Howard County Library System was using its social media accounts to push out helpful information on Covid-19 and the quarantine. On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, along with their regular emails to patrons, the Library used its social capital to amplify important community messages. In addition, they created place on their website to get information on the Coronavirus. 

In her March 25th YouTube video, HCLS President and CEO Tonya Aikens laid out the details of the library closures and the ways that the library staff were expanding online programs and resources as a result. It’s almost a fireside chat, reassuring with just the right amount of detail to support the overall theme: we’re still here. Aikens reinforces the message when she tell the viewer, “It’s all available 24/7 at hclibrary.org.” 


One of the things she mentions: you can even get a library card online to access the ever-expanding content. No need to wait: instant entry.

From that very first video the library has conveyed a sense of relationship with the community which is backed up by their years of active involvement in Howard County. They make it clear that the relationship doesn’t end when the library doors are closed. As Chair of the Friends and Foundation of HCLS Mickey Gomez wrote during National Library Week:

HCLS brings people together, provides education for all, and is the heart and soul of our community. HCLS has been here for 80 years, and we will continue to be here, offering creative, fun, inspiring, and energizing ways for you to learn and grow and expand your horizons, even during such challenging times.

It’s a challenge to maintain a relationship with the community when doors are closed and patrons are confined to their homes. But with staff already communicating daily through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, plus weekly to subscribers of their e-newsletter, the Library has already laid the groundwork for how to keep the lines of communication open. And that’s exactly what HCLS has done.

In addition to highlighting their already bountiful online offerings, library staff has created more programming tailored to meet a variety of community needs: for children, teens, and adults. But along with that has been the continued outreach to connect the community with the resources. Consider this video, using the voices of staff to invite community members to stay in touch. It begins, “We miss you,” and closes, “We’ll get through this together.”


And, again, but with a more upbeat, informational tone, “HCLS is here for you!”


Director of Communications and Partnerships Christie Lassen created a newsletter specifically tailored to giving community members the most current information on the library’s online resources, classes and events. The first issue of HCLS Special Edition went out March 30th and has been appearing weekly since then. At the very top the heading invites readers to “Ask HCLS: call, write or text.”

The folks at the library know they can’t deliver the best in education if, in a time of crisis, people don’t know where to look or are reluctant to ask. All the resources in the world won’t help if the relationship isn’t there to unlock their use.

As I go over the messages coming from the Library since March 16th it seems to me there’s an underlying subtext:

Don’t be shy. Really, you won’t be putting us out. We’re all going through this scary time together and, well, you know us, right? We’ve been through a lot together. Just because you can’t browse the cookbooks or come to story hour right now doesn’t mean you can’t call us. We’re still here for you.

The way that our library system has risen to this unprecedented challenge is confirmation of how committed they are to serving the community. I know we’ll all be thrilled to back at our favorite branch when it’s safe for us to do so. 

But in the meantime, they are serious when they say, “It’s all available 24/7 at hclibrary.org.

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