British Columbia Library Association

Developing New Outreach Connections in a Virtual Environment

By Janeen Parent


The Library Live and on Tour (LiLi) service at Fraser Valley Regional Library (FRVL) remains in touch with the community during the pandemic, allowing it to develop outreach connections in the virtual environment. LiLi’s librarian, the Community Development Specialist (CDS), uses a specially outfitted vehicle to connect with adults from mental health facilities that have both existing and new partnerships with FVRL. The partnerships connect LiLi with adults who may experience tech and digital anxiety, while creating a welcoming space to learn and play.

Much like the real world, the timeline shows evolution in service availability and engagement, such as now learning how to use Zoom to create engaging and interactive programs, and teaching digitally with Zoom. There is continuous effort to build relationships through new programs such as Armchair Travel, Book Club, library resource presentations, as well as offering a presence for reference and information questions.

Two recent programs

Armchair Travel: In the early days of the pandemic, LiLi pivoted to a virtual platform on Zoom where the CDS could connect with adults. The first program offered was Armchair Travel, which highlights a specific destination with help from the library’s digital databases and physical collection. Each clubhouse experiences the program differently. Some invite other community groups to join and others keep it to their own membership. Each session encourages engagement through casual conversation, sharing travel experiences, and providing opportunity to learn about digital resources and demonstrate the navigation journey.

Book Club: Book clubs create a successful outlet for connections between the library and adults at the mental health clubhouses. In the most basic form, the program encourages members to borrow the digital or physical title from their local library, while also creating initiative to explore their chosen medium, whether by navigating the website or speaking with staff to navigate their local library building. For some members, this is the first time learning of the digital library, and simultaneously creates a less intimidating environment to learn through a personable conversation and demo. A tangible connection to the library is also formed. For example, one clubhouse formally signed up their book club title via the local library after learning about book club options and group sign-up.

Cultivating connections in the virtual world

Whether the CDS is virtually visiting with clubhouses for the purpose of formal library presentations, an Armchair Travel program, or facilitating a book club, they have an ongoing connection that shares information and learning opportunities available. The CDS has formed relationships with partners’ staff, where staff ask questions about the library and in turn, they share their knowledge and promote library services internally with their clients. Additionally, by checking in and having informal conversations throughout the programs, there is opportunity to hear organic feedback. For example, one member enthusiastically shared her experience with the recently launched Sunshine Lamps via the FVRL Playground. The member was grateful for the opportunity to borrow a SAD lamp, particularly during the winter months when her mental health was suffering.

The virtual world is not without drawbacks. Not everyone can participate due to lack of technology or internet access. Digital anxiety can be overwhelming for those who are unfamiliar with technology. Sometimes logging on to the platforms includes no helpful sound or video. Thankfully, after a few minutes of miming or multiple logging on/off, the problems are often resolved with laughter and understanding.

Hope and opportunity

The benefits of these virtual partnerships depict hope within the pandemic. In some ways, it is easier to connect customers to the library now. LiLi’s customers have shared feedback that they are more digitally comfortable on the library website and are able to navigate the many services such as getting an e-card or downloading an e-book. The presence of the librarian (although virtual) is a comfort when the customers attempt their deep dive into the library space. For customers with various accessibility concerns, there is also less pressure to “go into” a physical library space to navigate their information and learning needs, thus creating a less stressful experience with their local library and community.

The pandemic has created multiple opportunities for those with the ability to participate in a virtual world. The ability to connect with each other regardless of distance. Opportunity to exercise patience and empathy because we are all going through this in some way. Hearing someone’s voice or to see another smile amid social isolation. Learning that your library card can offer opportunities to alleviate your situation. Mostly, participation means that connection through a screen can still lift someone’s day.

Janeen Parent is the Community Development Specialist Fraser Valley Regional Library. Contact Janeen at





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