Fife library services go online and tap into huge audience in lockdown
The team at Fife Cultural Trust - ONFife - which runs the facilities has been adapting to ensure it can continue to provide a service to all users during the lockdown.
But rather than opening the doors to their venues, it has transformed many of the services previously provided face to face to embrace the challenge of engaging with people online.
It is trying to provide community-focused activities that support, inform, engage and entertain.
And what it is offering has proven popular, particularly the hastily established LibrarYAY Facebook group developed by the Libraries Young People team.
Maggie Gray, service development team leader, libraries (young people) explained: “The minute that we realised the consequences of the lockdown meant that our children were going to be cut off from their usual escape through books and our activities we just knew right away that we had to get things going online.
“The very first day we all found ourselves at home we established a Whatsapp group to let the team chat about what was possible.
“We threw out some ideas for names, and it was Ailsa Gormley, our YP Supervisor in Dunfermline who came up with ONFife Virtual LibrarYAY.
“Somehow it sounded so positive and celebratory that it was a hit right from the start.
“We are a team that loves a challenge so initially we thought that we could maybe offer our popular Bookbug sessions, if we would be willing to record them on their phones at home.
“Willing was an understatement... and so Bookbug in Your Baffies was born.
“Some of the sessions have had over 800 views locally - and internationally – and that just gave us such a boost we decided to see what else would translate as an online offering.
“Turns out most of our activities work with a little imaginative tweaking!”
And the whole team is involved, with everyone contributing in some way.
She said: “We have Sharron and Sabrina our two Young Peoples’ Officers who decide on the schedule for the week and make sure all the uploading and tech stuff is done.
“They are supported by the rest of the team who film Bookbug sessions from their living rooms, post wonderful stories on YouTube, set Lego Challenges, host live Chatterbooks groups and help out with Code Club projects...to say nothing of the growing number of front line library staff who are now creating content for us to share from their lockdown locations - like Isobel’s amazing baking videos and Stephanie’s great Origami.”
Sabrina Maguire, libraries service development officer (young people), would normally be focusing on developing and delivering events and initiatives for children and young people, including delivering the summer reading challenge each year, organising author events at ONFife venues and in schools, co-ordinating the Kids’ Den after school clubs for Lego, crochet and knitting.
However, since lockdown things have been a little different as she organises a daily schedule of created and curated content for children, young people and families on Facebook.
She said: “Our brilliant team has learned to create videos of Bookbug, story time, crafts, Code Clubs and lots more.
“We mix this with related content on authors, books, health and wellbeing, STEM and anything we can find that we think families might like.
“We’ve had to navigate regular technical challenges and WiFi issues but are delighted with our brilliant following.
“It’s so satisfying and rewarding to feel we are part of families’ lives in lockdown and helping fill their days with their favourite library activities, even if we can’t see them in person.
“Our ventures into digital service delivery before this has been minimal and suddenly it is our only mode of delivery.
“It shows up where your skills are rusty, or even non existent! However, it has been a huge opportunity for learning and growth and taking a step back to see what it is our customers want to see from us – online or in person.
“We always pride ourselves on trying to reach as many people as possible and I know from speaking to my own circle of friends that Bookbug sessions help both parents and children feel more connected. “It’s a scary and uncertain time and being able to provide the familiar, even in a different format, feels like a wee gift.”
The Library Service Development team and colleagues at venues such as Kirkcaldy Galleries have been working together to provide the online content.
Sabrina continued: “It has been a real labour of love and we’ve all come together to provide the best we can for our customers, while libraries are closed. “We have produced and shared almost a hundred videos during lockdown and, while the production values may not win awards, we are very proud of these efforts.
“More children than ever are downloading books from our digital service - RB Digital.
“And we have the Summer Reading Challenge to look forward to starting in a couple of weeks time.
“This year, it will be delivered digitally by The Reading Agency and children can choose loads of titles to read from our online catalogue, until the time when we are able to resume some physical services.”
And people across the Kingdom have embraced the online offering.
Maggie said: “Within a month we had over 1000 followers and that continues to grow. We are at over 1700 now - around 94 per cent are women but that’s maybe to be expected with so much content designed to keep children amused.
“We have noticed that we don’t have a great following with under 25s though, so we’ll be thinking of new ways to reach younger parents to make sure they and their children don’t miss some great, local content.
“Our message right from the outset was that we may be closed but YAY we are still here, and I think families have liked having local faces and voices online.
“In the past we have done small bits of work online, like live streaming author visits, but to be honest our work in libraries and primary schools always kept us pretty busy so we really never had the time to get to grips with the technical challenges.”
And although lockdown is slowly beginning to ease, the ONFife team believes that even once things return to normal there will still be a strong online presence.
“We have to really,” said Maggie. “Even in our larger venues, a capacity crowd at a Bookbug session is around 50. Online we reach around 800.
“Our craft, baking and stories regularly attract over 300 viewers and with social distancing likely to be in place for a long time, I think there will be a call for us to continue the great thing we’ve started. And we’ll do our best!”
Sabrina added: “Our service can become a blend of physical and digital services in the future.
“Our customers are our priority and if they continue to use and enjoy our online offering, we will keep providing it.
“By recording Bookbug and craft sessions in some of our brilliant libraries and having these available online, we can reach a much wider audience and attract new library members who didn’t realise all the wonderful things you could do at your local library!”
While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you. In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news on this free-to-read site, I am asking you - wherever possible and providing it is safe for you to do so - to also please purchase a copy of our newspapers; the Fife Free Press, Fife Herald, St Andrews Citizen, East Fife Mail and Glenrothes Gazette.
Inevitably falling advertising revenues will start to have an impact on local newspapers and the way we continue to work during this period of uncertainty.
The support of our readers has never been more important as we try to make sure that we keep you connected with your community during this time. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. We need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.
Our team of trusted reporters are working incredibly hard behind the scenes - from kitchen tables and spare bedrooms - to look at how we can do this, and your continued support of our newspapers across Fife will help to protect their viability in the days and weeks ahead.
For more details on our subscription offers please visit email [email protected] or call us on 0330 4033004
Allan Crow, Editor, Fife Free Press