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Dean's Update: COVID-19 Triggers a Remodeling of the Drexel Libraries

April 8, 2020

Forget about competitive RFPs, thorough building condition audits, client envisioning exercises, compliant construction documents, and aesthetically functional interior designs. COVID-19 has triggered a "fast-track construction” remodeling of the Drexel University Libraries (DUL).

The Libraries has long been “online.” After all, we are part of a university well-known for its technological innovations and extensive experience with Online Learning. For decades, DUL has been shifting from building exclusively physical collections to mostly licensing access to electronic resources. Seems long ago that we replaced the physical reference desk with online information assistance and consultations, began processing more ILL requests for electronic citations than shipping books and print articles, not to mention uploading electronic course reserve readings and expertly customized guides into the campus LIMS [Learning—not Library—Information Management System]. So, some thought, how much different could working totally remotely possibly be for the Libraries? 

This issue of In Circulation offers readers a few insights into the impact of preparing all Libraries staff to work from home. A photo essay illustrates personal adjustments made for using unfamiliar laptops the Libraries issued and remotely helped set up, for making spaces dedicated to work at home, and for welcoming pets to serve as assistants and work companions. Another article captures observations from explorations of the DUL informal learning environments and shares thoughtful insights and advice about important design elements and work conditions to create such personal spaces to effectively work and learn online. Staff members also share their insights on providing remote Libraries services, starting a new job with the Libraries just days before the campus closed, and dealing with this “new normal.” And finally, University Archives staff have used the last few weeks to digitize even more issues of The Lexerd yearbooks, fast-tracking a project to provide access to another piece of the University's history in iDEA, Drexel's digital repository.

Communicating what is essential about the Libraries has been accentuated during this disruption. “Library as place” was expressly valued during the University’s initial response to the pandemic. Right before the end of our winter quarter, the University made the decision that all finals would be given online. In the past, the Libraries would provide an extended 10 days of 24-hour access to the Libraries physical space during final exams. This quarter we sought and followed advice on modifications to ensure the safety of our staff and our clients—shortening hours to about 15 hours a day, arranging more frequent and “deep” cleanings, and helping educate students about social distancing through signage and conversations during walk-throughs. We also provided pocket hand sanitizers with the Libraries logo that we (fortuitously) purchased last fall for Welcome Week promotional swag.

Hand sanitizer pen with the Drexel Libraries logo
Libraries staff handed out hand sanitizer during finals week. DUL originally purchased these promotional items for the 2019 Welcome Week festivities.

Throughout finals week, students came to work in the Libraries alone and to work together on final projects. A bit nervous about the many who huddled closely in working groups, I questioned if staying open was a good idea. Executive discussions concluded that the open floor spaces offered students a better chance to practice social distancing while working in groups than if they did so in small dorm rooms or other spaces on campus—and that it was critical for the Libraries to stay open.  

Getting word out to faculty and students on how to use Libraries’ remote services continues to be a challenge. We manage a central COVID-19 website where we regularly post new services and updates. We are exploring creating more focused communications for client groups such as teaching faculty, researchers, and students. We are also coordinating with different campus departments to embed information about our remote services and resources in the communications they send for targeted support.   

Also important is turning this period into an opportunity for encouraging organizational change. Holding all staff meetings via Zoom and encouraging staff to attend webinars for professional development allow us to continue to build our strong team community during this time of social distancing and working from home. Ideas for ways to assist others or adjust processing routines emerge from across the staff and many are implemented.  

Like any renovation project, some changes will last a long time, while others may pass with the fashion of the day. Hopefully, there won’t be many more issues of In Circulation when COVID-19 is the headline of our articles.

Stay healthy and safe, with deep thanks to all who are at the front lines in helping keep us all well through this pandemic.

Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries