Coronavirus Pandemic

How libraries in UAE stayed in touch with book lovers in Covid time

Afkar Abdullah /Sharjah Filed on November 11, 2020
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The three-day event will be seeing the experts discuss the challenges that libraries and librarians have had to face as the world enters the new normal.

As Covid-19 wreaked havoc around the world, libraries are among the establishments that have had to temporarily shut their doors — but they made sure they weren’t off the radar for long. In the UAE and around the world, libraries went virtual “all the way”.

Some 723 librarians, archivists, and industry professionals from 51 countries had virtually come together for the seventh Sharjah International Library Conference (SILC 2020), which kicked off on Tuesday on the sidelines of the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF).

The three-day event will be seeing the experts discuss the challenges that libraries and librarians have had to face as the world enters the new normal. The SILC is being hosted virtually from the US, in collaboration with the American Library Association (ALA).

Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), said: “Given the global challenges posed by Covid-19, especially to the field of education and learning, this edition of SILC is a crucial platform for looking into answers. Now more than ever, libraries worldwide need to develop strategies to enable everyone continued access to knowledge, research and learning resources in our ‘new normal’.”

Coping with new normal

Shaikha Mohamed Almehairi, director of the Libraries Department (LD) at the Abu Dhabi Department for Culture and Tourism (DCT), said the first days of the pandemic had been particularly challenging for their seven libraries in Abu Dhabi.

“With library closure and cancelled programmes, the staff was confused and disoriented. Then, we decided to go virtual all the way, using social media to connect, even delivering workshop kits to children at home,” Almehairi said. The team organised over 100 workshop sessions in a month. “We took our competitions online, carried out the first inventory ever for digital resources and drafted new policy and procedures.”

When members’ consumption increased, LD purchased more digital resources, created subject guides, and facilitated online learning and cross-training for staff. “Staff resourcefulness, resilience and accountability saw us through the crisis,” said Almehairi.

Librarians as second responders

Julius C. Jefferson Jr, ALA president and acting director of the researcher and reference services at the Library of Congress, said the Covid-19 crisis is a time of “opportunity and hope” for library communities around the world.

“Library workers are committed and resourceful and have served as second responders in times of crisis. Many libraries were collaborating with local partners and finding ways to remain essential, useful institutions.”

Jefferson stressed that libraries need all the help they could get.” If they lack resources to serve all people, this experiment will fail. In this year of crisis, we as a community must move forward together,” he said.

Afkar Abdullah

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