Idea Lab:

Outreach in the Time of a Pandemic


  • Dianne Connery Pottsboro, TX Library
  • Meaghan O'Connor
  • Elizabeth Pierre-Louis FOKAL
  • Jason Kuscma Toledo Lucas County Library
  • Melania Butnariu Brasov County Library
  • Claudia Serbanuta Progress Foundation, Romania



public libraries, storytime, social media, influencer, wi-fi, electronics, digital divide


The Idea Lab within JLOE is a space to center the voices of library practitioners, with a focus on emerging practices and experimental approaches. This inaugural Idea Lab is dedicated to the creative and inspiring ways that libraries are connecting with their communities - either virtually or socially-distantly - while prioritizing health and safety for customers and for library workers.

The worldwide shut down of physical library locations brought public attention to what the library community has long known–that public libraries are a last refuge for the most vulnerable members of our communities. Many libraries quickly and successfully pivoted to digital services and virtual programming, all the while understanding that these services don’t meet the needs of some of our most regular customers. People who rely on public libraries for a human connection with a staff person or another customer, internet access, a cool space on a hot day, or something as simple as a water fountain.

So how have libraries responded to this urgent need to recreate our outreach and engagement strategies when our buildings are off limits and human connections are necessarily distanced by six feet or mediated through a screen?

At the District of Columbia Public Library, we’re building on a foundation of strong partnerships to stay connected, deliver programs, and provide updates about library services. This looks like conducting virtual outreach through partners like the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington and their Clubhouse in Your House initiative and other community organizations. We’re also developing downloadable kits that partners can use to lead their own programming while taking advantage of library resources. We’re putting together programming packages and book giveaways that we can deliver to a central location - like DC Housing Authority or a summer meals distribution site - for a partner to distribute to their constituents. We know that there are critical gaps that we aren’t able to safely support right now. But I’ve never been more proud of the ingenuity and compassion of my team, my library, and of libraries around the world.