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3 Ways the Library of Congress Embraced Virtual Content

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed agencies nationwide to turn negatives into positives. But what do you do when your agency’s mission revolves around visitors?

The Library of Congress (LOC) encountered that dilemma earlier this year when the coronavirus began spreading across the U.S. While the LOC closed its doors in March, shifting most of its workforce was not an easy decision; after all, the LOC has treasures ranging from former President Abraham Lincoln’s notes on the Gettysburg Address to annotated letters from founding father Alexander Hamilton.

According to Director of Communications April Slayton, however, the LOC is entering a new era because of COVID-19. On Wednesday, during GovLoop’s latest virtual summit, Slayton said these unprecedented times are prompting lasting changes at the LOC. Slayton suggested that going forward, the LOC will rely on more remote work and virtual content than before.

If COVID-19 has your agency struggling to adjust to the new normal, Slayton shared three ways agencies can learn to love their seemingly digital future:

1. Make the Mission No. 1

The LOC is not just the official research library of Congress, it is America’s de facto national library too. According to Slayton, COVID-19 inspired the LOC to meet both responsibilities in new ways.

“When we closed the library’s doors to the public, we realized we needed a window,” she said.

To help promote social distancing, the LOC first needed to offer more of its resources digitally. Take the National Book Festival, an annual event that typically draws large crowds to Washington, D.C. Despite this, the LOC conducted the 2020 festival virtually to avoid potential COVID-19 infections.

Next, the LOC researched how COVID-19 is transmitted on physical materials such as paper so its workforce could prioritize in-person responsibilities. Now, duties such as preserving historic documents can take place more safely.

2. Communicate Well, Communicate Often

According to Slayton, translating the LOC’s close-knit office culture to remote work has been one of her agency’s best moves during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We took the community spirit people have in the library and tried to extend that to remote work,” Slayton said.

The LOC now sends recurring updates to every employee so the entire agency remains on the same page. As professional librarians, LOC staffers are also curating real-time data about the agency’s operations so any employee can easily locate it.

3. Stay Positive

Slayton said the LOC’s remote work capabilities were initially small but working hard and staying optimistic have helped the agency thrive in both the physical and digital worlds.

The LOC now has configured and distributed more than 1,000 laptops to meet an 800% increase in the number of remote workers on its networks daily.

“I’m day to day dazzled by their ingenuity and good humor during an event like this,” Slayton said of the LOC’s talent.

The Next Chapter

Slayton argued that while the coronavirus has challenged the LOC, her agency’s mission remains more critical than ever.

“Whenever we share a new collection, it sparks creativity and new scholarship about who we are as a country,” she said.

Check out other recaps from today’s virtual summit here, and make sure to register for other upcoming GovLoop online trainings.

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