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Going Green… and Back to “Normal”

July 3, 2020

As of Friday, June 26th, the county of Lehigh officially moved into the green phase. It was one of the last of the counties in Pennsylvania to transition to the green due to our proximity to Philadelphia (as well as Montgomery and Delaware Counties), New Jersey, and of course, New York City. More and more restrictions have been removed. Restaurants can now offer indoor dining for the first time in over three months, but gatherings of more than 250 people are prohibited. My parents went to the Wind Creek casino for the first time since March, but by invitation only. Hair salons are re-opening. And my place of work is going “back to normal” (in nearly every sense of the word) come July 6th.

There has been a lot of resistance among the college’s employees to this transition back into the workplace. For the sake of this blog, I will only focus on what our library will be doing to take precautions against COVID-19 while remaining committed to maintaining excellent service to our students, faculty, staff, and administration. (Our college will be closed to the public for any events such as orientations and job fairs through December 31, 2020.) Our library is comprised of two levels. Our lower level is where the majority of our physical collections are housed along with an information service desk and three study rooms. For the time being, we are roping off this level to students to help maintain social distancing and to contain touching of highly used surfaces to the upper level. Our upper level features the main circulation and reference desks, three more study rooms, our new releases, a reading room of fictional works, and our computer lab. Our circulation and reference desks are equipped with plexiglass shields. Social distancing will be enforced come Monday to make sure there are at least six feet between students on the computers. Curbside service will still be offered to those patrons who do not wish to enter the library. Disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer will be made available and students will be strongly encouraged to wipe down their work stations before and after each use. We have agreed — more or less — among our staff and librarians that we will not be the “watchdogs” when it comes to disinfecting surfaces and commonly used surfaces, although I have volunteered to gladly do such tasks. Others feel like that is not their job to do so, but I kind of have an “all hands on deck” kind of mentality when it comes to battling and containing COVID-19. I am not sure how I can provide reference help while maintaining social distancing. I wear my mask religiously, but I find that our students are very nervous when it comes to asking for assistance and are technology-shy. They are reluctant to grab the mouse and enter in search terms which I recommend to them, so I often myself leaning over them or reaching across to type search terms for them. Unless we use laser pens (which remind me of playing with cats), I do not see how I can maintain six feet between me and a patron. Does anyone else have any suggestions?

No doubt, it is going to be a challenge returning to the way things used to be but with the necessary precautions. The option for us to work remotely is now completely off the table, and I am not too happy with that executive decision, as are a lot of my fellow employees. It almost seems like there is a total lack of concern for the health of the college’s employees as well as the students. Under the guidelines for operating in the green phase, Governor Wolf has stipulated that remote work is still strongly encouraged. Why our college is not adhering to this guideline is not clear, and the question has straight out been avoided and left unanswered when addressed to those in charge. I see a return of the students, faculty, staff, and administration at 100% a recipe for disaster and an open invitation for COVID-19 to make an appearance. Couple that with the startling fact that should any of us at my college get sick with the virus or be exposed to someone who has contracted the virus and who must be quarantined for fourteen days, is now only eligible to receive two-thirds of their pay during that time off-campus, and you can get a glimpse of how irritated we are by this unfairness. I question why there was really no extended “buffer” period to ensure that we could transition slowly and safely as we grew steadily in occupancy and why those who are most vulnerable could not continue to work remotely if they did not feel safe returning to campus. In my opinion, it would be safer to have the students return in the fall.

Since becoming a librarian, I have never been wary of Mondays. I do not mind them. I have found my niche in this world and time and I enjoy my profession. However, come this Monday, I might be operating in a completely different mode and state of mind. Thank you for listening to my rant! I am concerned about a spike in COVID-19 cases once we are all back on campus and it is not going to make the college look good. I know of no other college in the area doing the same thing and returning to 100% occupancy at this time in the green phase. I am hoping that we can take the necessary precautions with disinfecting surfaces and with wearing masks, but I do not see this as enough protection. The best option would be to allow remote work whenever possible. Contrary to what the higher-ups might think, many employees are just as, if not more, productive when working from home. I can honestly say that my three and a half months working from home have been productive, as I have felt calmer and certainly less interrupted. I am just hoping that it will be worth the risk of being back onboard at full capacity.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. smartin592 permalink
    July 6, 2020 5:46 pm

    I share your concerns on how to provide face-to-face reference services safely. I don’t really see a way to do it. My hope is that even when we are open to students that reference interactions will still primarily take place via our LibChat interface. We have upgraded our subscription to get the screen sharing functionality turned on and so I’m hoping that will enhance the services we are providing remotely.
    Guidelines on reopening have been shared by our college but lack specifics on what that will mean for the library. My hope is we can manage with reduced staffing where each person may only need to be in the building 1 or 2 days a week and be able to work from home for the rest.

    • July 6, 2020 11:29 pm

      Thanks, smartin592! I agree that there doesn’t seem a safe way to do reference face-to-face. We just migrated to LibChat over the pandemic in May, so I am curious if we will have the screen sharing function since that would make things a lot easier! And same when it comes to guidelines — there are no specifics. We are more public than other departments and have items that actually come back from students’ homes which have to be quarantined. I feel like we are in a different boat! I wish we could rotate schedules and come in one or two days a week, but sadly, that’s been axed.

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