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Summer Check-in

July 28, 2021

So, how are we all doing? A deceptively complicated question as the calendar flips from July 2021 to August 2021. Especially, with the new guidelines from the CDC. Even before yesterday announcement, it seemed like a good time to check-in and see how plans for the fall semester are progressing, or aren’t, as the case may be.

As summer began, and even into the 4th of July holiday, things felt like they were returning to “normal.” Social distancing guidelines were relaxed, and at my library we were able to retrieve the furniture we had placed into storage. Those of us who are vaccinated were able to take off our masks, and we even had an in-person tour for a group of first-year students who were taking summer classes.

Fast forward four weeks and we are back again in that place of uncertainty where we lived most of 2020 and the first months of 2021. Will we need to mask up again (most likely), and what about a booster shot for the vaccine? Situations and recommendations are evolving week to week, and even day to day as we face the Delta Variant of COVID-19. Oh, and we are less than a month away from the start of the Fall 2021 semester. Not to put any more pressure or anxiety onto you…

In this post, I’ve outlined the thoughts and considerations that are filling up my bandwidth. I’d love to hear where you are putting your work energy and attention. How you are coping (or not) with another potential wave of uncertainly?

Re-learning what it means to be in a library

This has been a big theme for the past month or so. I started to transition back to working on-campus starting in mid-June, and now I spend at least 4 days a week in the library. I have had to re-learn what working in an office is like. The good: opportunities for serendipitous conversations with colleagues. The bad: the way my focus, and energy, tend to dip around 2pm. It was important for me to take time to adjust to the feeling of the library as a space, and to think how the library staff and will interact with our patrons in this space. What will it be like to teach in a computer lab again? What hours will we be staffing the physical reference desk?

The students will need to re-learn how to use a library as well. We will have two groups of students, this year’s first-years and sophomores, who have not experienced a fully open and accessible library. How do we teach them how to use the space? Or, communicate expectations related to quiet study areas, computer lab use, or even how to find a book on the shelves. We are all a bit rusty when it comes to existing in the same space with one another. Not to mention how do we train and re-train student workers. Even if they are returning, they’ve been gone from their “normal” jobs since March 2020, just like us!

For all the striving to return to “normal” there are some things that I want to keep from the pandemic, particularly related to instruction. Using online forms, polling apps, and even online bulletin boards (aka Padlet), provide students with an opportunity to participate anonymously, without the pressure of raising a hand. They also allow us to informally assess student learning better than paper worksheets. I plan to continue using these tools but it won’t be as easy to share URLs without the Zoom chat. Do I build more course guides to house these in-class activities? Or, handouts with shortened URLs and QR codes? Will students continue to bring devices with them to class (a necessity for any Zoom classes), and will our computer labs be back to full capacity for the fall semester? A lot of planning still needs to happen in the next month or so.

Still keep that Plan B (or C or D) close by

As we undertake any planning for the fall, it appears that we still need to consider alternate scenarios. The in-person reference desk schedule may end up being online chat and email only. We have ended Hathitrust ETAS, so may need alternatives for student access if they are quarantined or shift back to remote learning. Planned in-person outreach events may end up with a limited number of participants or shifting to online or asynchronous “make ‘n’ take” events. I hope that doesn’t happen… please universe…

We’ve tackled remote work, instruction, and library services before but that doesn’t mean that we have to like it or feel comfortable entertaining those contingencies again. But, if the past 18ish months of COVID -19 have taught us anything, worst case and unthinkable scenarios should be kept on the table. Just in case…

I do not have answers of how to “return” to the state of things before the COVID-19 closures, or whether it is even conceivable if we can do that. Instead, I offer these questions, doubts, and “what ifs” in the spirit of solidarity. Each library, and every library employee is probably going through a version of this process. I doubt we’ll get it 100% right, the transition to Fall 2021 will be bumpy, but in the end it will be enough. Just as we all gave ourselves patience and empathy during the first days of stay-at-home orders, we will all need it as we start to enter the library again.

So, how are you doing? An answer of “okay-ish” is more than enough.

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