Q/A with Ann Yurcaba, Director, Library Administrative Services
June 3, 2020
Earlier this month, Ann Yurcaba, Director, Library Administrative Services, sat down with Danuta A. Nitecki, Dean of Libraries to discuss some of the challenges she has faced since Drexel closed its campus due to COVID-19, requiring all Libraries staff to work remotely. Communications Manager Stacy Stanislaw documented the interview.
Danuta A. Nitecki (DN): I know the multiple disruptions and uncertainties we are facing right now—notably a global pandemic and civil unrest across the US—affect almost all aspects of your work as the Drexel Libraries’ Director for Library Administrative Services. Our readers may be curious about some of the behind the scenes impact on how we have responded to this sudden and different way of doing business. Let’s start our exploration by inviting you to briefly describe your role and what your job entails.
Ann Yurcaba (AY): My position covers a lot of ground, and I support many facets of the Libraries’ operations. I manage the Libraries’ physical locations—for example dealing with space challenges that require interaction with Drexel’s Public Safety and Facilities teams. I am also responsible for the Libraries’ technical infrastructure, which is the basis for all Libraries services and client interactions, including access to e-resources. I also manage the HR side of things—ongoing support and development of existing staff and recruiting and onboarding new staff. Finally, I oversee the Libraries’ fiscal operations—managing the budget, accuracy of expenditure reporting, and tracking financial activity.
DN: Let’s delve into a few of these. Think back to the closing of campus on March 20 due to COVID-19. What did you do to prepare the Libraries’ physical spaces for the closure and what are the challenges you are facing as we start to plan for the eventual return to working on campus?
AY: We have a core group of staff who are responsible for updating clients regarding any changes to hours and facilities. They post signage around the Libraries buildings and communicate changes to our hours and services through our website and other communication networks—usually we do so because of snow or a holiday. For example, we had reduced our hours during finals week due to COVID-19 and planned to close the W. W. Hagerty Library at 5 p.m. on March 20 – the last day of final exams. However, late the night before, the University announced the campus would close as soon as possible that day. Soon after arriving on Friday, we decided to close the building at 10 a.m. Our staff mobilized and posted the necessary messages online and in person. That also involved reaching out to Public Safety, the Law School (which shares access to its library through the W. W. Hagerty Library) and a few other campus units to let them know what was changing.
Over the years, I have developed a strong relationship with Drexel’s Public Safety and Facilities departments, which is integral to what I do. For example, since the campus closed, I have been in touch with Public Safety regularly to ensure the book drop at W. W. Hagerty Library is clear so people can return books while we are closed. I also have coordinated with Business Services regarding the food and vending operations in the Dragons’ Learning Den so they could access the building to check on their equipment and the food.
In terms of planning to reopen, I have been working with a small group of staff to think about what life will look like when we come back. We are thinking about what requirements we will need to provide to ensure a safe and secure space and what services we can safely provide the Drexel community. We are also waiting to learn more about guidelines and priorities the University will offer to guide such planning—we are glad that as the Dean of Libraries, you are serving on the large campus Fall COVID-19 Task Force to identify issues everyone will need to address and insert the Libraries unique questions.
DN: What did you do ahead of time to prepare staff to work remotely? Were the nearly 50 Libraries staff members ready to go home, just like that?
AY: We probably started planning the week or two before Drexel officially announced it would close. The Library Integrated Technology Systems (LITS) team started looking at our inventory to understand what equipment we would need to get to our staff working from home. We scheduled meetings with staff who needed equipment, training or new programs for their laptops so they could work remotely. They then had enough time to take the laptops home and test them in that environment. By the time we got the official announcement that campus would close, we already had about half of the staff working remotely. We also have some dedicated managers who were thinking ahead, especially regarding staff who manage print materials. They thought about what their staff could do from home, and they worked to transition these staff to new responsibilities and new tasks—important work like cleaning up the records for our online resources to make our online resources easily accessible.
DN: You mentioned onboarding new employees. The Libraries has identified three most essential vacant positions that are integral to our mission to shape future scholarship, reduce the cost of education and inspire the life-long quest for learning. What are some of the challenges you are facing in recruiting—and then onboarding—people remotely?
AY: That has been very challenging. As we continue to recruit for vacancies, the question becomes, “Are candidates able to commit to an entirely online interview? If they move forward, can they work entirely remotely—including onboarding and training?" It generally has been a much slower process than usual. I have been going back and forth with advising applicants we want to interview about when we can hire new staff. We’ve gotten to the point of offering candidates positions, and they unfortunately come back and tell us they can’t commit to a new position during this time of uncertainty.
That said, since March, we have successfully on-boarded one new staff member who has not set foot in the Libraries. We decided to use her personal laptop instead of trying to deliver a Drexel computer to her home, and she worked with LITS totally remotely to get set up with Libraries applications. Luckily, her manager already had a lot of online documentation and was able to effectively train her remotely. That is absolutely a new challenge we haven’t faced before.
DN: You have been central in helping the Libraries' development and implementation of a matrixed organizational structure over the last few years. How—in this period of such uncertainty—has that organizational structure either helped or made it more challenging to get things done?
AY: It has absolutely helped. You could think about a matrixed organization as a recognizable hierarchical structure overlaid with a project-based environment—the alignment gives us a lot of flexibility. Staff are dedicated and positioned to multi-task and wear many hats. It can be challenging to communicate what this structure looks like, but it gives our staff opportunities to try something different and to support the Libraries in new and different ways. Leadership can come from all levels, and we try to cultivate that and empower all staff. They don’t contribute to just one area of the Libraries—they’re working across teams and programs. There are so many opportunities to try something different to be nimble and innovative.
DN: Finally, what about your job is the most rewarding or the most difficult, particularly during this incredibly difficult time?
AY: There isn’t one thing that stands out. Right now, I would say it is amazing how well our staff—and the University as a whole—has been able to pivot and embrace this new way of working and to be ready for whatever comes next. Recognizing that each person is looking at this differently and allowing everyone to have room to deal with the pandemic and the events of the last few weeks is a huge part of helping staff navigate this unique time in our history. I know it can be difficult for our staff to stay focused and refreshed—and more importantly, to step away from work when their laptops are always sitting right there. I’m also finding you get to know people differently when we’re all working remotely from our private spaces. You get to see into their personal lives. We see into each other’s living rooms or home offices or wherever we work. In some ways, I think you connect even more in the remote environment.