Libraries Staff Reflections: Returning to Campus During the COVID-19 Pandemic
October 8, 2020
Whether you just started your first day of kindergarten or your freshmen year of college, this fall’s “back to school” has been like no other.
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed colleges and universities, as well as primary and secondary schools, to develop new operational models in order to resume classes, with many opting for remote or hybrid models to ensure the health and safety of their students and teachers.
At Drexel, undergraduate courses remain remote for the fall quarter, and graduate students follow a hybrid model, with remote courses and some limited on-campus activities.
As part of the University’s reopening plans, the Drexel Libraries is now open with revisions to its services and facilities. Currently enrolled Drexel students and employed Drexel faculty and staff with a current Dragon Card may reserve a seat to work alone or amidst others in either the W. W. Hagerty Library or the Hahnemann Library, and they can access the Libraries’ physical materials by request via home delivery, onsite contactless pickup, or online delivery of digitized print materials. Libraries hours are currently limited, and staff continue to provide remote services and consultations, as well as 24/7 access to online information resources.
Reopening the Libraries facilities wasn’t easy. Logistically, staff spent hundreds of hours preparing the spaces to reopen, from placing campus “sit here” signs on chairs designated for use, and creating and hanging signs throughout the facilities, to setting up the seat reservation system.
There was also some anxiety around the return to campus. Like so many others around the world, Libraries staff weren’t sure what to expect when the doors reopened.
Here, read their reflections on the first few weeks of being back on campus.
Antoinette “Tonie” Williams
Assistant II, Client Access Experiences
You are scheduled to return to campus on September 21, 2020.
These words instantly sent my anxiety into overdrive. I haven’t felt this unstable since the onset of the pandemic in March. Of course, I knew this day would come, but I still was not fully prepared. Upon my arrival to W. W. Hagerty Library, I instantly noticed significant changes, from the lack of foot traffic to the sparse options of food trucks. (Oh no! John and Mike are not here, ugh!!) The silence of the library was so foreign to me because I am so used to the busy interactions at the service desk. Fortunately, I was able to address some backlogged work for Course Reserves. Streaming videos and scanning full speed ahead were on deck for all three of my shifts, as well as getting familiar with the new COVID-19 policies we need to implement so we can open the learning spaces for our clients.
Even though we have to maintain social distancing, it was great to interact with my colleagues face-to-face. (Yes you can see their smiles behind the masks.) I’ve even had conversations with the guy from University Facilities who is making sure our area is sanitized now more than ever. Going forward, I hope to be able to continue to provide the services that we are famous for with safety, dignity and a smile.
Assistant II, Client Access Experiences
I returned to campus during the first week of Fall Term like many others, and it really was strange at first to be back. I constantly tried to recall what everything felt like when we had left. I am pleased to say that in the last few weeks, the transition to another "new normal" has not been too hard. I agree with many others that it’s extremely refreshing to have in-person, though socially- distanced, conversations with my colleagues.
Hahnemann Library has been pretty quiet so far, but that is beneficial in the sense that [Libraries staff] are able to give everyone who comes into the physical location our undivided attention, as well as an ear to listen to others' experiences throughout all of this. I commend all the students who are pushing on with their education during this time—your hard work does not go unnoticed.
Director, Services and Quality Improvement
When I was on campus at times this summer, it was very quiet. Later, just before the fall term started in September, there was more activity in University City—far fewer people in sight than usual, and much of the activity was related to the COVID-19 testing being done across Market Street in the Rec Center, but it was still good to see. It was also good to see two food trucks on Market Street and the reopening of Franklin’s Table Food Court, where one of my favorite food trucks has a retail spot.
By the time we finished preparing the W. W. Hagerty Library to reopen—working within the COVID-19 guidelines of always wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet from others, choosing to work on my own away from others—these “new norms” felt more and more automatic and thus easy to comply with.
Best of all: the chance to interact with colleagues in person! From seeing our custodial partners, other Facilities workers, and public safety officers to seeing our own Libraries team members, I felt my spirit lifted and reenergized. Once the library doors opened for Week One and people were already waiting outside for their chance to come in, things felt back on track. It’s been great to see that most people in our library spaces are observing the University’s Dragon Pledge, and everyone we’ve reminded to put their mask back on or to keep a safe distance from others has been extremely cooperative and fast to comply.
Manager of Access Experiences
The Drexel Libraries remains a quiet, focused place to study. Students who visit us are interested in finding a quiet spot to sit down and study or focus on work. We've also seen increasing interest from students seeking to check books out from the Libraries. Our contactless pickup locations at W. W. Hagerty and Hahnemann Libraries are set up and working well to facilitate access to our physical collection. While the physical reserves collection is closed, the Libraries’ online reserves services is still available. Students and faculty members have been requesting digitized excerpts from our physical reserves books and have been placing interlibrary loan requests for reserves books as well, much like before.
I returned to campus in mid-August for the first time since the University closed to help prep the Libraries’ three physical locations to reopen. Since then, I’ve spent a few hours a week on campus, creating and hanging new signs, photographing our spaces and helping with anything else I can. Now that the fall term has begun, the University City campus in particular is eerily quiet, and I have to remind myself that it isn’t term break – this is what campus looks like, for now.
Despite the quiet streets (silver lining: no lines at Wawa!) – or maybe because of them – it has been incredibly comforting to see the familiar (masked) faces of Libraries staff. It is energizing to talk with colleagues in person and to have socially distanced, face-to-face meetings. These days, most of my on-site meetings seem to deal with issues like “how many ‘wear your mask’ signs is too many?” or “where should we set up the hand sanitizing stations?” but this is the way for now. Our campus, our city and the world, certainly aren’t ‘back to normal,’ but it does feel good to be working in the Libraries again, if only for just a few hours at a time.