Defining a New Era for Our Library & Our Community
Updated: Apr 30, 2021
By Library Director Derek Wolfgram
The COVID-19 pandemic could transform public library operations as much as any development since the creation of the internet, especially for an institution like the Redwood City Public Library (RCPL) with so many large, in-person events. However, given the mission and the strategic service priorities of our Library, our post-pandemic reality is unlikely to significantly disrupt what we do for our residents, even if it dramatically changes how we go about serving our community.
The mission of the Redwood City Public Library is to cultivate community by welcoming all people to experience the shared joys of literacy and learning. The Library’s service priorities, based on aspirations we heard directly from our community, are equity, inclusion, safety, awareness, and education. Over the last couple of years, our RCPL CARES racial equity initiative has begun to reshape programming, policies, and budget allocations to prioritize equity in everything we do, right down to the selection of books our community expects to find and enjoy. The pandemic has not interfered with this focus – in fact, it has heightened our commitment.
So, what will look different about library services when we reopen on May 24? We have implemented numerous physical improvements to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at all three library buildings:
• plastic shields and physical distancing markers
• enhanced ventilation systems with hospital-quality filters and ultraviolet light disinfection
• personal protective equipment
• hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere
At the Downtown Library, curbside services will continue for customers who do not yet feel comfortable entering the facility.
In the near term, computers will have significant space between them, public seating will be limited, and high-touch areas like the Baby Bay at the Downtown Library, the Interpretive Center at Redwood Shores, and other touch-driven interactive activities will have limited access. When the Downtown Library Makerspace is complete, the designated space is already designed to be open, modular, and flexible, which will keep people at safe distances.
Community gatherings will be some of the last elements of library service to return. Our community meeting rooms will remain closed for the foreseeable future, and large events will remain in an online environment for the time being. Offering programs online has actually helped us reach more people with disabilities, transportation issues, or child care challenges. Moving forward, we are likely to offer a hybrid model of in-person and online programming to equitably meet the various needs of our diverse community.
Plans are already underway for developing a large park adjacent to the Downtown Library and the Pirate Ship imaginative play area next to the Redwood Shores Library. Both of these projects will provide useful and engaging outdoor spaces for programs and events.
We will continue our partnerships with Redwood City’s two school districts to ensure that evolving needs are met as students return to classrooms. Connectivity through circulating hotspots and devices, learning loss from many months of at-home online learning, and mental health and socialization challenges will all be critical in our support of students, caregivers, and educators. We also hope to safely reinstate programs designed specifically for vulnerable populations, such as Social Service Office Hours, legal assistance programs, and others.
One unresolved challenge for the Library is to develop new channels for community engagement to ensure that our community’s voices are heard in the development of new library services, especially for vulnerable populations. Much of the magic of events like the Human Library and Library Takeover programs resulted from natural energy and enhanced communication when groups of people share a physical space. As long as people eschew gathering insignificant numbers, we will need to explore new creative ways of gathering information and feedback.
Throughout the history of the RCPL, change has been a constant, and while the COVID-19 pandemic may not have been anticipated, the Redwood City Public Library is well-positioned to continue serving our community in innovative and creative ways.