Library Responses to COVID-19: What I Observed

The COVID-19 pandemic has been quite disruptive to many aspects of our lives. As we all struggle to manage the new reality, our libraries are also doing their best to continue providing services to their communities during this trying time. I have been following library responses to the COVID-19 crisis on social media and here are some of my observations and experiences.

  • American Library Association (ALA)’s Pandemic Preparedness page has a lot of great resources that could help libraries better understand how to respond to the crisis.
  • Libraries establish specific pages that list COVID-19 related resources that are reliable and trustworthy, such as the one from Portland State University Library.
  • A creative librarian from Hoover Library at McDaniel College put on book displays in his/her own home, reminding people that these books are all available through the library’s eBook collection.
    (image source: Hoover Library’s FaceBook Page)
  • Storytimes have gone virtual! A police officer from Puyallup, WA, a frequent guest at Puyallup Public Library’s storytime, recorded a virtual one for kids.
    (image source: Puyallup Police Department FaceBook Page)
  • Libraries’ 3D printers have new uses now – they can print face shields for health care providers.
    (image source:
  • Although the physical location is closed, some libraries still continue to provide curbside delivery services to help patrons check out materials. Woburn Library even made TikTok video to promote this service to their community!
    (image source: Woburn Public Library FaceBook Page)
  • Libraries are considering turning bookmobiles into free WiFi trucks – what a thoughtful idea!
    (image source:

Despite all the challenges the pandemic has posed, it does provide opportunities for libraries to highlight their wonderful online resources. My local library, San Jose Public Library, has done a fantastic job in that regard. Since the closure of the library building three weeks ago, they have been sending a weekly email to stay in touch with everybody and encourage people to use their online resources.

Week 1, an email containing Frequently Asked Questions that really helped keeping us informed and putting our minds at ease. It’s a relief to know that all of our book will be automatically renewed till after the library reopens.


Week 2, an email emphasizing SJPL’s online sources specifically oriented to K-12 kids and educators, such as and a bunch of EBSCO databases.


Week 3, an email reminding us that if we don’t have a library card already, we can apply for an eLibrary Card online, so that we can freely use the library’s online resources.


The most recent week, an email giving us a summary about how people are actively using the library’s online services such as virtual reference, which has been extended to 24/7, and participating the Spring into Reading program, an program that encourages people to use the library’s eBooks and other eResources.


These emails always bring a smile to my face. 🙂

Our libraries and librarians are the best!


New course on health literacy and public library

I taught a new seminar course this summer, discussing the role of public libraries in supporting the community’s health literacy through the provision of consumer health information. I have done some research in this area and have grown increasingly interested in what libraries can do in meeting the community’s health information needs. The Public Library Association has listed “Health” as one of their initiatives, and the National Network of Libraries of Medicine is also actively working with public libraries in the development of consumer health information collections/services/programs. Event ALA’s Libraries Transform Campaign includes “health” as an area where public libraries can make a difference.

In this class, we looked at how public libraries can provide consumer health information from the following perspectives: the public’s health information seeking behavior, health reference services (e.g. key health information resources, evaluation criteria, health reference interview), consumer health collection development, programming, outreach and collaboration, outcome evaluation and needs assessment, and professional development of public librarians. I asked students to do field research and here are some highlights of their observations how consumer health information is provided in public libraries:

  1. Targeting special populations – e.g. a resource center for veterans where health and wellness is a focus
  2. Targeting a particular health issue – e.g. a desert library has a resource center dedicated to cooling, hydration and other heat-related health concerns
  3. Various fitness programs – e.g. yoga, zumba, Taichi
  4. Workshops covering a wide array of health topics – e.g. healthy lifestyle, mental health
  5. Health-themed book displays in the library;  online resources (databases, curated list of free websites) also have a designated “health and wellness” section
  6. Strong partnerships with community health stakeholders in the development of programs and services

It was really an interesting course to teach despite the huge amount of work. My next step is to identify public librarians who have gone through MLA’s Consumer Health Information Specialization training and interview them, and their perspective and experience will surely help enrich student learning next time I teach the class.

A Crazy Week of Conferencing

I traveled to two international conferences consecutively last week, which was hectic but rewarding. The first conference I attended was the the 2019 Asian Conference on Education and International Development, where I presented my research on how public libraries provide programs to help mitigate summer learning loss among k-12 students (see slides below). This was my second time going to a conference on education, and I really enjoyed all the pedagogical innovations shared by the presenters. Particularly the use of gamification in classroom was intriguing – I have begun to think, in online classes, how could I apply elements of game playing to motivate and engage students?

My second conference was the Design Thinking Global Workshop organized by Guangzhou Library in China, where Chinese public librarians met with Design Thinking experts from Aarhus Library in Denmark, Chicago Public Library and Singapore National Library and experienced the application of Design Thinking in library service/program development. I gave a presentation (in Chinese) on impact assessment and discussed the basic process of measuring the impact of a project (see slides below)- after all, once the library implements a project using the Design Thinking approach, they won’t know how well the project is doing, or how impactful the project is, until proper assessment is conducted.

After the whirlwind of the past week, I’m just glad that it’s spring break this week so I can breathe a bit while catching up on work!

Public Libraries and Health Literacy

A major research interest of mine is to look at public libraries’ role in promoting health literacy. Recently I published an article titled “Health information programming in public libraries: a content analysis” in Public Library Quarterly, examining the purpose, content, type and audience of health and wellness programs provided by a large urban public library system in California. To further my research along this line, I’m collaborating with a professor at Shanxi University in China to explore how public libraries are meeting older adults’ needs related to health and wellness. While everybody else was enjoying their Thanksgiving holiday, I flew to China to collect data for this project.

We conducted focus groups at Taiyuan City Library. In China, the way public libraries is set up is quite different from the US – in the US, for instance, in the city of San Jose with a population of 1 million, there are 24 branch libraries dispersed geographically and there’s not much difference in terms of the magnitude of collections/services/programs/facility; but in China, in the entire Taiyuan City with a population of 3.4 million, there are only two public libraries – the Taiyuan City Library and the Shanxi Provincial Library. Both libraries are magnificent six (or five) floor buildings equipped with state-of-the-art technologies and designs. Here are a few photos of Taiyuan City Library:

Spacious interior – the grandeur of the lobby is impressive.


Touch screens everywhere – for accessing the library catalog, for reading e-Magazines and eBooks, for reading library news and announcements, and for scanning QR code to access library resources on one’s mobile devices, etc.


Young visitors – we ran into a group of preschoolers visiting the library. From what I heard, the city library has become an popular site for school field trips!


The way Chinese libraries develop and provide library programs is also quite different from the US. For instance, in the US, there are many activity-based or instructional programs geared toward older adults (e.g. Taichi class, line dance/ ballroom dance class, instructional workshops on how use eBooks, etc.), which connect people with library resources through participatory experiences. But in Chinese public libraries, programs primarily take the form of lectures given by experts on topics of interest to older adults.

Although I did not get to take a break during the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s certainly worth it. Besides successful data collection, I learned a lot observing how libraries in these two countries operate. 🙂

A recent research/library trip to China

Last week I went to Shanxi Province, China for a research trip.

I’m collaborating with a Chinese professor from Shanxi University to study the role of libraries in helping the public fulfill their consumer health information needs. On this research trip, we conducted focus groups and in-depth interviews to gather data on people’s consumer health information seeking behavior and librarians’ preparedness in providing consumer health information service. It was a fruitful trip.

I visited three libraries – I wanted to post the photos here but couldn’t (maybe there were too many; hmm…maybe I should switch to a different blog platform?). So I ended up posting them on a separate webpage. We have students taking the international librarianship course in our program and maybe they will enjoy my post. 🙂

A community library in China

I love visiting local libraries when I travel. This summer, I came to Guiyang, China to see my aunt and uncle. They live in an area with a population of 300,000 and yet there’s only one public library in that area. The tiny community library is a 600 square-foot room containing a few shelves of magazines and books, a reading area, and two small staffed desks. Most readers there are senior citizens (the only young reader there is my daughter).

Even though the physical space is limited, the library provides a wide array of electronic resources, which are displayed on a big touch screen. The e-resources include eBooks, eJournals and videos. Each title has a QR code – people can scan it and then access it on their mobile devices. How convenient!

ITIE 2014

Earlier this week I attended the Information Technology in Education (ITIE) 2014 Conference. It’s a biennial conference organized by the Evergreen Education Foundation (EEF) and its library partners in China. This year the conference was held in Changsha and the partnering library was Hunan Provincial library. The conference theme was Oral History in Libraries. Many rural school library projects funded by EEF in the past two years are oral history projects, where school librarians work with teachers and students to collect and document oral history. I was very fortunate to serve as a grant reviewer for these projects and was impressed by the diversity and depth displayed. I got to meet several of the grant awardees at the conference and learn about their project progress. How wonderful!

The conference invited two venerable scholars as keynote speakers – Dr. Don Ritchie, US Senate Historian, and Dr. Weiming Tu, a renowned ethicist, Professor of Philosophy and founding Dean of the Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies at Peking University. Their enlightening talks about oral history research and spiritual humanism (respectively) introduced me to philosophies and paradigms I knew very little about. I also made connections with a number of librarians and library directors from China. I had great conversations with them and learned a lot about their visions and ideas regarding library development in China. The Director of Guangzhou City Library (a very large metropolitan public library), from the photo below, was a trail-blazer and he even hired an American librarian to work in the “services for diverse populations department”. Many exciting things are happening in the library arena in China.

My own presentation, “Digital storytelling in the Library”, also went pretty well. I became interested in this topic when exploring how to use digital storytelling as a means to enhance health literacy. Hopefully I will have more opportunities to work on this topic. I find Daniel Pink’s book “A whole new mind” quite inspiring when it comes to the power of storytelling. I recommended it in my presentation, but I don’t know if it has been translated into Chinese. I hope Yes!