How to be a People Person without any People is a poster in the 2020 PNLA Virtual Poster Session. We encourage you to engage in discussion by leaving a comment on the page. The author of the poster will respond to comments the week of August 4-7, 2020.

Presenter: Robert Perret

Track: Academic, Public, School, & Special Libraries

Abstract: Public services like reference and instruction were completely disrupted by quarantine, leaving patrons to cope with significantly curtailed services mediated by technology they may be unfamiliar with. This poster will discuss strategies employed to keep the personal touch without touching, thus keeping patrons engaged through screens cast far and wide. When you pride yourself on always saying yes, how can you say “not right now” to patrons already suffering from a lack of resources. Kind answers to difficult questions are called for and this poster will model successful approaches.


About the Presenter: Robert Perret works in Special Collections and Instruction at the University of Idaho. He is passionate about patron engagement and creating meaningful relationships between people and research and critical literacy.

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Erin Hvizdak
3 years ago

Excellent ideas! What types of questions have you done or would you suggest for a virtual whiteboard? I really like that idea. I’m also wondering, I love the idea of being more informal with social media posts, but I also worry about being “unprofessional” – how do you monitor that?

Robert Perret
Reply to  Erin Hvizdak
3 years ago

I think any question that allows people to talk about themselves and their experiences works. And I think it doesn’t always have to be about the library/books. What food have you discovered during quarantine. What is your favorite solo hobby?

As for the professionalism in social media, you would have to know your audience a little bit (including any stakeholders who might not be on board.) There is a lot of literature out there about engagement via social media that supports that though. As a rule, only 20% of your social media output should be about your organization. (programs, policies, new hours, etc.) and 80% should be other things. You can boost other resources in your community (and hope they return the favor), you can ask your patrons questions (polls, etc.) and you can have a little fun.

For better or worse, your patrons are interacting with your social media accounts like a person. If all you ever talk about is very dry press release announcements about your organization they aren’t going to stay very engaged. If they see you as a broader resource then they will pay more attention to you. If they begin to see you as an approachable entity then they will being to interact with you.

3 years ago

Great ideas in here, and like the other commenters, I love the slide about offline activities! As more and more people complain about zoom fatigue, etc., I’ve been thinking about ways to engage with people offline (whether for work or personal life). Love the idea of inviting patrons to create art to display. Thanks!!

Pam Henley
3 years ago

Those were some great ideas! And I agree, some of these will probably continue for those who still won’t be able to get to the library even when “normal” returns – the homebound (senior living faciities for example) come to mind.

Jay Peters
3 years ago

Great presentation! Lots of good ideas!

Kellian donna Clink
3 years ago

I like the sidewalk chalk idea too!!!!!

3 years ago

Great stuff. Love the sidewalk chalk idea. Also connecting up the physical (activity kits) to the virtual (videos) — seems like a good way to engage patrons.

David Luftig
Reply to  Rick
3 years ago

I really like the idea of continuing to embrace libraries as a shared public space despite the distancing requirements. I’m curious if you’ve seen any changes in morale either in the patrons or your co-workers as the pandemic has dragged on. I feel like at the university libraries we go through waves of optimism and sadness. I know shutting down the reference desk hit some of us real hard.

Robert Perret
Reply to  David Luftig
3 years ago

I think the inconsistent messaging has been a challenge, morale-wise. We are also planning to offer a kind of hybrid reference service, and I think that is challenging from the librarian’s side. You aren’t back at the desk, but you aren’t all online either. It is definitely a challenge!