Call for FYAL Bloggers

With the new academic year coming up soon (or perhaps, for some of you, already begun!), we’re looking to bring on a few new bloggers here at ACRLog. We’d like to thank our 2019-2020 FYAL bloggers Karina Hagelin and Yoonhee Lee for their terrific posts this past year in our First Year Academic Librarian Experience series. We’d also like to encourage new academic librarians — those who are just beginning in their first position at an academic library — to blog with us during their first year.

FYAL bloggers typically publish posts monthly during the academic year. If you’re interested in applying to be a FYAL blogger here at ACRLog, applications are due by Saturday, September 12. Send an email to aharrington@pennstatehealth.psu.edu that includes:

– a sample blog post

– a brief note describing your job and your interest in blogging at ACRLog

Proposals are evaluated by the ACRLog blog team. When selecting FYAL bloggers we consider:

  • Diversity of race/ethnicity/sexual orientation/ability
  • Voices from a range of academic institutions (for example, community colleges, research universities, etc.) and job responsibilities within academic libraries (for example, instruction, cataloging, scholarly communications, etc.)
  • Clear and compelling writing style
  • Connection between day-to-day work and bigger conversations around theory, practice, criticism, LIS education, and other issues

Please send any questions to aharrington@pennstatehealth.psu.edu. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

And, We’re Back! Re-Opening Our Library

As a medical school library, we already have students beginning a new academic year. Between nurse, PA, and MD programs, residents, and the non-stop functioning of a hospital we support, we knew we would be among the early returners… the guinea pigs, if you will.

Some upsides: The majority of our user base is already accustomed to wearing surgical masks for long periods of time, so I imagine we’re correcting mask protocol less often than we would have to elsewhere. (The fact that we have to do it at all may be unsettling, but I still think we’re luckier than most in this regard.) The students seem to have settled into alternative study routines (or perhaps they have as much news update email burnout as I do, and therefore haven’t heard that we’re open) and didn’t swarm us immediately at 8am on Monday. We have procedures in place for everything that has come up so far, and things are running smoothly (knock on wood).

I’ll give you some details of what’s working for us that may come in handy as you prepare your own reopening plans, or may just be of interest.

  • The open stacks are no longer open; we hung caution tape and signs directing users to the desk to request items, rather than retrieving them on their own.
  • We are quarantining all checked-out items for 72 hours, using some file drawers we weren’t using for other purposes. We picked five, labelled each for a day of the week, and added the day of the week they should be emptied. (The first drawer says “Monday – open Thursday,” the second says “Tuesday – open Friday,” and the rest are opened Monday since we aren’t open on the weekends yet.)
  • All returned items must go directly into the book drop (as opposed to being handed to the person at the desk) so it all goes into quarantine together. (If they are checked out, exceptions will be made for bone boxes and board games, which still go into quarantine, but are too fragile/multi-part for the book drop.)
  • Reserve textbooks, which have a 2-hour checkout, can be checked out, but they must go into the book drop and follow 72-hour quarantine procedure. We’re also reaching out to our liaison departments to tell instructors that if they want any readings from those books, they ought to check them out and sort that out. (We’re also providing copyright information to keep them from making mistakes.)
  • We are not checking out headphones (we don’t feel they can be properly sanitized).
  • All of the spaces of the library are available, but at half capacity. A week before reopening, we stacked chairs, turned around soft seating that can’t be properly sanitized, and separated the tables in study rooms so they’re in each corner instead of clustered in the middle.
  • We still let users borrow packs of dry erase markers, but we have bins for “new” and “used” (depending on your area, you may have seen the same concept applied to pens for signing receipts at restaurants) and they get quarantined and wiped down
  • We ordered a great deal of signage, to cover the following:
    • New hours
    • All guidelines, posted at each entrance
    • Mask reminders
    • No eating/drinking (not a usual policy, but as you can’t eat/drink with a mask worn properly, a new necessity)
    • Small room capacity, posted on each door
    • “Sanitation station” identifiers (where users can find spray bottles and paper towels to clean tables, chairs, computers, etc. before and after use)
    • Reminders to follow specific procedures in relevant areas, like “please put all items in the book drop” (as opposed to handing them to the person at the desk)
  • We created an “incident form” for internal use. Since our ability to move to the next reopening phase depends on the number of incidents we experience in the library, this allows us to track them. There are two types of incident: “learning,” which is a friendly reminder to follow a procedure that goes heeded, and “defiant,” which is the type of event where the friendly reminder is given but the behavior is not corrected.
  • Everyone who can continue to work from home, does. We have two staff members who cover the service desk, all reference hours are covered on Zoom and via email, and three people (me, the Access Services Librarian; the Associate Director; and the Director) come in regularly to manage the library and make sure the staff get breaks. Others may come in occasionally to do a single task that can’t be done from home, but they don’t keep regular schedules in the library.

None of this is complex, nor should it be. We have easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow rules for the space, we’ve limited services and resources as little as possible, and we cut the capacity in half simply by moving furniture and hanging signs.

We’ve been open one week now, and so far – although it isn’t closing time yet – we’ve only had eleven “incidents” to report, and they’ve all been the “learning” type.

If you’re preparing to open your library, I wish you the best of luck, compliant users, and comfortable masks. If you’re holding off for a while longer, I support that decision and hope your pets enjoy having you and home a little longer. (My cat has been more upset about me being gone for the day than any of our users have been about being reminded to wear a mask and stay at or under study room capacity.)

Not-So-Empty Library Spaces

You probably, to some degree, miss the physical space of your library right around now. It’s been about eight weeks since you’ve seen each other, after all. Whether it’s a dual-monitor setup in your office or that weird stain on the carpet that you swear looks like an alligator from the right angle, there’s got to be something you miss about your library space.

I think physical library spaces and their many uses are fascinating, so knowing that so many libraries across the country are sitting empty and dark right now makes me a little sad. (To clarify: we should definitely be closed for safety, but empty libraries are still a sad thing to imagine.) Not all library spaces are going completely unused, though, and some are being used in new and unforeseen ways.

In the more traditional vein, some libraries are offering curbside service, which means there must be a skeleton crew inside the space, experiencing that “empty libraries are eerie” feeling we’ve all had when we forgot our phone on our desk and had to go back in after closing.

Another well-known use of library space is being continued in Seattle. They recognize that books and computers are not the only things people want from libraries, and reopened enough of their spaces to allow unsheltered people to use another highly popular library resource: the restrooms.

We know at least one library is buzzing with activity while the staff completely reshelves their collection after a well-meaning cleaner arranged all the books by size.

This American Libraries article discusses several ways libraries – and library staff – are being repurposed, like turning a library into a day shelter (with adequate space to allow necessary physical distancing) or deploying library employees to help out at shelters and helplines.

While most of these examples involve public libraries, academic libraries are also participating in popular pandemic-time activities, like 3D printing PPE in their maker-spaces.

But the most active use of library space right now is one I’m getting to witness firsthand at our own library. When I completed the NLM’s Disaster Health Information Specialist program earlier this year, I learned that libraries often serve as the Incident Command Center for disasters, because they have comfortable space (heat/air, restrooms, electricity, seating), internet access and phones, and “breakout” spaces like study rooms or meeting rooms. Our library is now serving in this capacity, and it is fascinating to see how that works, up close and in real time.

If your library space is not very lively right now without you, and you miss your plants and desk tchotchkes, try thinking of the funny things about returning to work, whenever that will happen for you: what outdated displays will still be up? The weather will have changed pretty drastically; what jacket or scarf did you forget you left in your office in March? And, now might not be the best time to remember… but did you leave leftovers in the break room fridge?

Work-From-Home: Part-Timers & Student Workers

Most academic library employees across the country have been working from home for the better part of two weeks now, and will be doing so for an unknown amount of time this spring (and summer?) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What about our part-timers and student workers? In my library, I have two dozen part-time employees whose assigned job is exclusively working at the service desk when the rest of the staff has gone home for the evening/weekend. This is not work that can be done from home, or when the physical space of the library is not in use: checking in/out items, providing basic computer assistance to users, counting the cash drawer, etc. So what can they do?

I (like so many others) have been trying to think of work we can offer to these employees so we can justify paying them for tasks they can do from home. I realize that many of our institutions are taking a hard look at their budgets right now, and paying your part-timers and student workers for as many hours as you could before might not be feasible (or might not continue to be for the duration). But if you give them meaningful work to do now, they will look less expendable on paper.

A few days ago, our university libraries put out a call for student workers to start a project where they document their experiences during the pandemic/quarantine, in whatever medium they choose (print, video, art, etc.) and we can pay them for their contributions to the special collection these products will go into. (Take a moment to imagine the exhibit these will go into in a couple decades, perhaps alongside personal writings from the Spanish flu pandemic and the yellow fever outbreak! One second while I add a calendar reminder to check on that in, say, 2040?)

Because of the aforementioned potential budget changes, we can only offer so many hours per week to the student employees participating in this project, but I’ve been constantly vigilant for opportunities for my part-timers to work from home. A few ideas I’ve run across are:

  • Link-checking LibGuides
  • Contributing to new LibGuides of free online resources and COVID-19 resources
  • Assisting with responding to reference emails or participating in reference chat services
  • Plan displays/exhibits for when we return (book lists, graphic design, etc.)
  • Contribute to Library of Congress transcription projects
  • Relevant webinars/training (like Lynda/LinkedIn Learning)
  • Required or optional institutional training (compliance, cybersecurity, etc.)
  • Create a written guide on the tasks they normally perform, for future training purposes
  • Curate a list of the aforementioned trainings/readings for others to use
  • Weeding projects (based on booklists, not physical item’s condition, of course)
  • Manually extending interlibrary loan periods

Not all of these will work for us, but some are possibilities. Some would require getting access for them to systems they couldn’t normally access; most would require some degree of specialized training, and all would have to follow specific hours guidelines to ensure that we aren’t paying out more hours than we are budgeted for. If you’re worried about giving your employees something they aren’t prepared for, consider: you’ve heard about last-year medical and nursing students being called on to assist in the medical side of this crisis; surely your part-timers and student workers can be called upon to do more specialized tasks than they were doing before.

What tasks are you having your part-timers complete during this time, if any? What resources can you provide for them while they are essentially suspended from work? What other considerations do you have to incorporate (for example, do they need a VPN to get this work done, or can you provide laptops to them)?

Celebrate Your Cheerleaders!

Last month, we had a small reception in our library to celebrate a handful of individuals who are strong supporters of the library and promote the use of library resources and services by students, faculty, and staff. Despite being new to this library this year, I was familiar with this program, because the “READ” posters featuring last year’s recipients and the books they chose to highlight were hanging in the library. Now, those posters have been gifted to the individuals featured on them, and replaced on our walls by the new honorees’ posters. Starting this year, we are also adding the books chosen by the honorees to our collection, with a bookplate stating who they are and why they were recognized by the library.

It’s nice, right? I certainly thought so. People like to be recognized for their efforts. So I thought about how we hadn’t done anything official like this for the faculty and staff who really championed the library at my former job, even though I can easily name a dozen of our “cheerleaders” off the top of my head, even after being gone for a year now.

There are a lot of little ways we can thank the faculty and staff who make our jobs easier (by promoting the use of the library to their students and among their colleagues) and make our jobs harder in the good way (by increasing traffic to the library, making requests for collection development or instruction, utilizing our services, and so much more).

There are no-cost ways to recognize our “cheerleaders,” like posting about them and their work on our social media accounts, building displays centered around them, or simply writing them personal thank-you notes (and, if appropriate, copying their supervisors to extend the recognition beyond the library). There is also sometimes the opportunity to get involved in a project or service that is important to that faculty member, like assisting with a student group they work with, or volunteering library space for meetings of a committee or group they serve on at an institution where space is a hot commodity. Many institutions have a “kudos” system, where you can submit a person who is worthy of kudos and they receive some sort of recognition or reward for having a positive impact.

There are low-cost ways, too; our READ posters and small reception with cookies and coffee was not an extravagant affair (and everyone responds well to cookies and coffee). Purchasing copies of the faculty member’s publications to include in the library’s collection (if this is not already a given at your institution) is nice, and I would even ask them to sign the library’s copy, to make it a little more special. Even a simple gift (bookmarks seem like an appropriate choice, but use your imagination!) at the end of the year (calendar or academic) given out to a selected number of individuals in the institution who have supported the library in their own way would be a nice gesture of appreciation.

So in the spirit of the season of giving thanks, and giving gifts, consider implementing ways of celebrating those who celebrate you and your library!