In February and March, 2021 our team conducted a survey to understand the state of programming in California libraries. We received 66 responses. Relevant findings are shared here. 

  • 57 respondents (over 86 percent) are from public libraries. 
  • 6 respondents (approximately 9 percent) are from school libraries. 
  • 3 respondents (approximately 5 percent) are from academic libraries.

Types of programs offered 

Most libraries were able to offer some sort of programming throughout the pandemic. The majority – 70 percent – offered virtual programs. Approximately 17 percent of libraries offered hybrid programs, and almost 12 percent offered in-person programs. Only one library stated they were not able to offer any type of programming in the last year. 

Program successes

Nearly 40 percent of respondents said virtual programs were a success. Respondents noted that there are many benefits to offering a program virtually: those who have time and transportation barriers can attend and there is flexibility for those with mobility and time constraints. One library had program attendance go up by 175 percent because of the virtual programs they offered. 

Notable programs offered have been: 

  • Virtual storytimes 
  • Author visits
  • Talks by city experts (such as the city historian)
  • Teen programs, such as mindful journaling, advisory board meetings and game nights
  • Online tutoring and job help
  • Battle of the Books
  • Virtual class visits
  • Book to Action program
  • Antiracism and LGBTQ pride programs 
  • Unboxing new books and “get to know the staff” videos
  • At-home programs such as cooking and tidying up

Respondents also noted that adult and teen virtual programs are more successful than virtual children’s programs. Additionally, by archiving live and asynchronous videos, patrons can access the program and are able to attend on their own time.

Hybrid programs have also been popular. Nearly 18 percent of our respondents said grab-and-go programs were one of their most successful programs. Examples of grab-and-go programs included: 

  • Paint-alongs
  • Snow globe making 
  • Craft kits 
  • STEM/STEAM kits
  • Storytime kits (one library provided a book with craft material appropriate for babies and toddlers; others provided more traditional storytime material such as a bell, an egg shaker or a scarf)  

One respondent noted that take-home arts and crafting is popular for young patrons and adults. 

Academic libraries continued to provide online reference and research support. 

If in-person programs were offered, they were passive and socially distanced. Examples include Storywalks, a poetry walk for National Poetry Month and drive-thru events.  

Post-COVID-19 program challenges 

Our toolkit is designed to help fill the gaps in program planning, development and implementation during COVID-19 and as we emerge from the pandemic. To fill these gaps, we asked libraries about the challenges they anticipate.

The majority of respondents said that staffing (39 respondents) and funding (36 respondents) would prove challenging when it came time to reopen their library. Challenges with staffing include the number of support staff in the library. They also include training new staff and communication across departments and within branches. The majority of the requests for training include technology training for virtual programs. To address these issues please review our Partnerships section and Technology and Funding under Resources.  

Community partnerships made the list of greatest anticipated challenges. Over 15 percent of respondents replied they are concerned about partnerships in their community. The stability of nonprofits and businesses, and the willingness of the library and/or the agency to work together has libraries wondering about their future partnerships. To understand ways to resume or develop partnerships, see the Partnership section of this toolkit. 

Lastly, safely gathering is a concern of staff and patrons. Several respondents said they are examining avenues for the safe return of patrons. For resources on how libraries are safely returning please view Response to COVID-19 articles under Resources


We polled respondents on resources libraries needed the most. Top requests included funding resources, additional staff, an idea-sharing platform, technology support and training for staff. For idea-sharing, we have created a Slack account. This is a wonderful opportunity for libraries to connect, recharge and learn something new.