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Librarians Without a Library

August 24, 2018

I posted a few months ago on this blog about a renovation project that was happening at my library. A lot of progress has been made and we’re getting close to the finish line BUT it’s not ready yet and we’re wrapping up our third day of class at W&J. I can’t say this has come as a total surprise – we’ve all watched HGTV and know that there are usually bumps in the road when it comes to construction. However, speculating the library wouldn’t be ready in time for the first day of class and having to communicate that it wouldn’t be ready were two very different things. We realized that we needed to decide what library services we could offer from our temporary location without our physical collection and other resources an actual building provides.

Over the summer we had been offering access to electronic resources, chat reference services, and Interlibrary Loan during regular business hours. We knew we needed to step up our game now that a new school year was starting. The first thing we decided on was expanding our hours. We didn’t feel it was a worthwhile use of staff to keep our temporary space open the same hours we would our regular library but we also wanted to make sure that we were able to serve our students in the evenings.  So, we decided to stay open until 9pm Sunday-Thursday which is when we’ve traditionally staffed our reference desk. This way students will still be able to find help from a librarian when they’ve been accustomed to finding it.

When we packed our library last spring we were proactive and asked faculty to identify items from our physical collection that they knew they would need at the beginning of the semester. A few faculty members took advantage of this offer and their items were packed separately from the rest of the collection in easily identifiable boxes. We were able to retrieve those items from storage and visit with the rest of our displaced collection while we were there. We also packed some of our ready reference items last spring, specifically the always popular CRC Handbook and citation style guides. Those items along with others that faculty have contributed make up our Reserves for right now. We have a book cart that can be wheeled out into the public space that is serving as our circulation/reference desk during the day and then wheeled back in to our lockable office at night.

As I mentioned we expanded our hours for offering chat and face-to-face reference services. Our temporary location happens to be on the first floor of the Tech Center, which is a computer lab/study space area that is open to students 24 hours a day. We have a little desk off to one side that is manned from 8am-9pm Monday-Thursday, 8am-5pm Friday, and 5pm-9pm on Sunday. Wednesday was the first day of class and I was the first librarian to take an evening shift. Normally we do not get many questions during the first week of school but because students are in this space and I was the only visible adult in the building, I got five questions! Two of which I would classify as honest to goodness reference questions, not just directions. We’ve considered the idea of having reference librarians work shifts in other locations on campus besides the library and my experience on Wednesday reinforced my convictions that this is a great idea. We know that not all students choose to study in the library and having a library preference somewhere other than library might help us reach those students. Once they’ve had a good experience with a librarian they will hopefully be more likely to take advantage of our services in the future.

We are also providing information literacy instruction services but without access to our library classroom we’ve had to get a little creative. We’ve been working with professors to secure other computer classrooms on campus, re-working activities to be able to be completed in groups so students can share devices, or coming up with sessions that don’t use devices at all. Looking on the bright side, this has opened a line of communication with the faculty when previously they might have just requested that we do, “…your normal library thing in the library”.  Working with faculty to determine what they actually want their students to get out of a session is beneficial to us for relationship building and ultimately beneficial to the students because their getting the information they really need. We’ve also been able to introduce students and faculty to more of our online resources, including our new discovery service. Communicating information to students about available library services has gotten us access to a few other classes where we may not have been invited to do a full information literacy session. Additionally, we worked with the Freshman Orientation to make sure that a stop at our temporary library location was part of their campus tours.

I don’t want to make it seem like everything is sunshine and roses; there is a lot of frustration about the library not being fully functional and our entire library staff is sharing one room for the time being. One of the faculty who came to visit us said we look like a public television fundraising phone bank (see picture below) and we agree with him. However, this renovation has given us a chance to prove to the skeptics that the “library” is more than just a building while at the same time reminding everyone how important it is to have access to the library building and physical collections.

Library Staff GLU

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