Things I’ve Learned Managing a Library During this Crisis

First I want to recommend Zach Osborne’s post “Hospital Librarianship during the COVID-19 Pandemic” as a really good description of what it is like right now as a hospital librarian. I couldn’t have expressed it better.

I also want to share some of the things I have learned during this time. I think the easiest way is to just do a list.

  • Some key library infrastructure systems do NOT work from home.
    • We found both our ILS (Innovative Interfaces) and Illiad do not allow for us to do back office work (set up accounts, catalog, order articles, etc.) when we aren’t on our institution’s IP range.
      • VPN isn’t the answer because our IP is still our personal Internet Service Provider not the institution’s IP address.
      • We had to create a frustrating work around and that limits the number of people who can get into the systems. But at least it is a work around.
    • NOT everything is available online!!! I can’t stress this enough. There are articles that healthcare people need from the 1990’s that aren’t online.
      • These are older articles on antivirals, ventilators, triage, etc. that are VERY MUCH needed by frontline personnel, researchers, and administration during this pandemic.
      • This is especially difficult to deal with since the National Library of Medicine and many academic medical libraries are not providing ILL’s to these type of articles because they have nobody in their libraries. I feel sick to my stomach that we can’t get people these needed things at this time.
  • Don’t worry about the books. Shocker, a librarian is saying this.
    • Contact your ILS to see if you can set autorenewals for all outstanding items.
    • IF you charge fines, waive them during this time.
    • Establish a procedure for handling returned books. Because people will try and return them now, and they will return them eventually when this is all over.
    • Post signs on your website, book return, and library doors for patrons not to worry about returning and fines.
  • Let staff take their computer monitors, mice, docking stations home so they can be as comfortable working online as possible.
    • Create a document stating the employee has your permission to take the listed items to use as they work from home and they understand that these items must be returned when they return to work on campus.
  • Document everything you can, you never know when and what you will need. Think of how you can show your library’s value during this time if/when there are budget cuts later as a result of the crisis.
    • It is especially important to track any searches, document deliveries, projects, help that you did specifically related to covid-19.
      • This might be difficult if the requestor doesn’t say it is for covid-19 or if it doesn’t have covid-19 in the title. But it is safe to assume topics on ventilators, ARD, antivirals, intubation, and triage can’t be counted. Another “hidden” topic is the larger topic of internal medicine, many people are brushing up on internal medicine as they are reassigned to those floors, so look at those a little closer.
  • Be flexible in your new work space and take breaks and encourage your co-workers and staff to do the same.
    • Nobody sits at their desk at work all day. They walk to meetings, lunch, talk to co-workers, retrive things from the printer, etc. So don’t sit at your home desk all day. Get up, take a quick walk, chat with a co-worker.
    • I can’t remember where I heard this, but make it a goal to reach out to at least 5 people each day (no your pet or the people in your house do not count). It is too easy accidentally socially isolate yourself.
    • Remember nobody is perfect, everybody is having struggles too.
  • Finally do what is right for you, your staff, your library and institution.
    • This means that there isn’t one right way to staff a library during a pandemic. It all depends on balancing your institution’s rules and safety.
      • Some libraries will need everyone to work from home.
      • Some will have a split staff.
      • Some will close the space to patrons but have staff come in.
      • Hospitals may have different staffing rules.
      • Colleges may want the space to be open to students so they can spread out and study/work, but the library staff work remotely.

I know it seems a bit overwhelming but now is also the time to start planning the reopening of the library and resumption of services. Create a brainstorming document where you can list the things you need to think about when you do reopen.

Here is what is on my reopening list so far:

  • Do we need to limit the number of people in the library (including staff)?
  • Does staff need to wear masks? What about patrons?
  • Should we mark off where people should stand waiting/talking to someone at the front desk?
  • Thinking about making “Use Another Computer” or “Use Another Desk/Chair” signs to post at every other spot.

I hope this is helpful and everyone is staying safe.

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