Category Archives: Lifeline

Engaging Library Users Through the Web

The past few months have pushed both libraries and library users to try out web based library services.  The basic techniques have been around for a long time, but the addition of video makes it worth while to review what we have learned so far.  Video has made it easier to remotely engage people for 3 of our primary activities: reference services, public workshops, and professional meetings (including board meetings).  A fourth activity, storytimes, remains difficult to provide remotely.  Fortunately, the web still makes it slightly easier.


Of all our remote library services, reference has been around the longest.  Snail mail, telephones, fax machines, email, online chat — remote reference has been around for well over 100 years.  The basic techniques have been worked out.  Video does add a few new challenges.  When working from within the library, the camera introduces the risk of surreptitiously exposing who is using the library.  While public libraries have always been a public place, we have also worked to maintain a certain level of privacy for library users.  To this end we routinely handle building surveillance cameras as confidential records, give people the opportunity to not be photographed at events, and otherwise try to limit observation to people who can themselves be seen.  Video reference at the reference desk can inadvertently reveal who is using the library by showing what is going on behind the reference desk.  Considering that reference desks are typically placed in the middle of the room when possible, this is a significant opportunity for mistakes to happen.  There are 2 basic ways to address this: place the camera so only a controlled view of the library is visible (a wall, plants, or other screen), or use web chat/meeting software that adds a fake background.  30 years of dealing with IT have given me a few rules, like technological solutions can be misconfigured, glitch, or be hacked.

Another problem introduced by cameras is the need maintain a professional appearance when working from outside the library building.  This sounds obvious, but the are plenty of high profile failures to be found throughout the world.  This brings up another rule I use: do not copy when you can learn instead.

A different problem come up when several people want help at the same time.  In person reference and other technologies make this straight forward.  People can form a line, leave a message, or try again later.  Some video technologies like FaceTime and Duo follow the same model.  If the library uses a web meeting room to manage reference then this becomes more difficult.  Privacy needs to be maintained by keeping the web meeting room closed and only allowing one library user in at a time.  Also provide an automated message that everyone will see or hear when trying to connect so they will know what to expect.  Not all platforms can properly manage a queue.

Workshops and Meetings

Workshops and meetings have been online for a long time and have already developed into a robust industry.  Despite their outward similarity, webinar and web meeting platforms have significantly different features that can be described as the two ends of a continuum.  Webinar platforms are good for centralized communication.  This is good when delivery is very structured.  This is not only for seminar style workshops but also for panel discussions and for meetings where a parliamentarian maintains strict speaking order.  Web meeting platforms form the other end of the spectrum with tools that facilitate multi-directional communication.  This is good when open exchanges of ideas are emphasized like with staff meetings, book clubs, and teen advisory board meetings.

The features of webinar and web meeting platforms are not a strictly one or the other.  They really do form a continuum with different services offering different combinations of features.  This means that a platform focused at one end of the spectrum could be used with limited success for work at the other end.  However, if both styles of communication are needed for your library’s operation then it makes sense to have both platforms or at least a middle of the spectrum platform that is good enough at both.


Storytimes are the bane of online communication.  There are many ways to make the more obvious aspects successful.  The “show me” part was fully worked via television decades ago.  Excellent advice on that is abundant and free.  The “do it together” part has been a particular focus recently.  Craft kits may be delivered separately so kids can do a craft while following along with the video, either live streamed or pre-recorded.  Similarly, call and response activities, like “Hot Lava” or “Freeze”, can be live streamed or pre-recorded.  However, storytime also serves a socialization purpose.  The children in the storytime audience act as a stable group with some individuals entering as others leave.  This creates a situation where the new kids learn by example from the kids who are already there; they copy to fit in.  In educational lingo, by embedding a child in a group of other children they learn important lessons about socially appropriate behavior.  Someday in the future virtual reality or augmented reality may create a way to accomplish this socialization remotely.  We are not there yet.

Library Service During a Crisis

The State of the Crisis

On 31 March 2020, Governor Greg Abbott issued an Executive Order implementing Essential Services and Activities Protocols for the entire state of Texas (  These orders specifically call on the Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, a memorandum from Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), a part of U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  (  All of the following advice should be taken in the context of section Considerations For Government And Business with particular attention to items

Continue reading Library Service During a Crisis

Eclipse Glasses… Now what?

I am thrilled at how excited everyone got over the celestial event and looked to our libraries as a resource. My family and I traveled up to be in the line of totality and viewed the eclipse at a library in Chesterfield, Missouri. But I know that many of you are resting easier now that the eclipse is past. Librarians all over the country have been calling eclipse glasses the new tax forms.

Now that the dust has settled, did you find that you were left with many discarded glasses? Or perhaps they all disappeared. As many of you probably know, we are going to be getting a wonderful show right here in our own backyards in 2024. If your discarded glasses comply with NASA’s safety standards, the glasses should be reusable indefinitely… as long as they don’t get scratches. So if you were thinking of hoarding those glasses now for 2024, make sure they are stored in such a way that they won’t get scratched.

If you would rather them be gone, Astronomers Without Boarders is working on a plan to collect and redistribute to other areas around the world experiencing an eclipse. Details should be forthcoming soon on their website.

Additionally, you can tear the lenses out and simply recycle the cardboard frames. This Smithsonian post suggests using the lenses in arts and crafts projects to make a souvenir of the event. Sounds like a wonderful programming idea!

Please send us pictures and information about your eclipse programs! How many were in attendance? What did you learn to prepare us for 2024?

2D and 3D Pinhole Projectors for Safely Viewing the Eclipse

Do you have a 3D printer at your library? NASA has shared the .STL file for a pinhole projector in the shape of Texas! Even if you don’t have a 3D printer, that website also has PDFs for making them out of card stock and other inexpensive ideas for safely viewing the eclipse.

Please email us and tell us how you plan to celebrate the eclipse at your library! Get more tips like this in our upcoming monthly newsletter. You can sign up here!

Shopping with Amazon Smile Can Support Your Favorite Organizations

Support Charity While Shopping for Father's Day


When you are making Amazon purchases, please remember that you can continue to support the work CTLS does by shopping through Amazon Smile. Of course, this is also our reminder that you can set up a similar Smile account for your library/Friends group and share this with your community! Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of eligible AmazonSmile purchases. You can learn more about getting started here. Have any of you done this? Have you found it to be worthwhile? Please share with us your experience!

Is Your Library Ready for the Celestial Event of the Century?

nasa eclipse free solar glasses

See the note below from Paul B. Dusenbery, Director of the Space Science Institute about the eclipse that will take place in August of 2017. If you register your library, they will provide many great resources and will even send you 50 free some solar viewing shades!


Dear Library Friends,

Are you ready for the celestial event of the century? In just over a year from now (August 21, 2017), the shadow of the moon will sweep across the United States from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean in a spectacle that hasn’t occurred in 99 years! The National Center for Interactive Learning (NCIL) at the Space Science Institute has recently been awarded a grant for its NASA@ My Library program. Partners include NASA, ALA, The Girl Scouts, SETI, and many other organizations. The STAR Library Education Network (STAR_Net) is managed by NCIL. The STAR_Net team wants to work with your library and thousands of others to participate in this national event. Some fortunate libraries will be able to experience a total solar eclipse though every library in the country will observe at least a partial eclipse.

So jump on the eclipse train! Please go to: to register your library. We will, in turn, let you know how to access the following valuable resources:

  • Vetted Multimedia for Programming/Promotion (Images, Video, Animations, Artwork)
  • Media Template Package (Press Release, PSA, Community Letter, Media Alert)
  • Private Eclipse Forum (registered libraries)
  • Inclusion in Special Eclipse Promotions (Social Media, Blogs, Newsletters, etc.)
  • Enrollment in STAR_Net’sEclipse Newsletter

When your eclipse event is planned, you can share your press release, flyer, website link, or like material with us to receive 50 free Solar Shades for your patrons to watch along with us! (shades are available on a first come, first serve basis).

Best wishes,

Paul B. Dusenbery, Director
National Center for Interactive Learning
Space Science Institute
Boulder, Colorado

Exoplanet Kiosk Installation at the Johnson City Library

Paul Waak recently paid a visit to the Johnson City Library to help install the CTLS rotating Exoplanet Kiosk. The exhibit is an interactive kiosk that gets constant updates from the Kepler mission, which is searching for Earth-like exoplanets, planets that orbit another sun outside of our solar system, throughout the galaxy. The kiosk gets live updates from the Space Science Center or Jet Propulsion Labs with any breaking discoveries.

So far, the kiosk has visited Pflugerville, Taylor, Wells Branch, Harker Heights, and Johnson City.



Summer Reading PSAs in English and Spanish Now Available from CSLP

The Collaborative Summer Library Program has created PSAs for your library to use to help promote your summer reading program! They are downloadable from their website, can be customized to include information about your library, are in English and Spanish, and there are a variety to pick from. You can embed them to your website or share them on social media to help spread the word! Go check them out!


Follow or Contribute to the CTLS SRP2016 Pinterest Board

Are you on Pinterest? If so, we have created an Summer Reading Program 2016 board to collect ideas. We are sharing images of crafts and activities from the manual as well as other theme related ideas. Please contribute to the board or just watch it to get some good ideas!


If you are new to Pinterest, this could be a great way to get your feet wet. It is a great place to get and share ideas! Contact Katelyn Patterson with any questions you might have.