By Allison Campbell-Jensen
Libraries staff have been managing through many changes in the last six months, the most recent being the re-opening of our four main University of Minnesota Libraries — Wilson, Walter, Health Sciences, and Magrath. Now, some staff no longer work from home, yet others continue to do so, while they provide online services for students and faculty.
“One challenge has been when students hear the word library, they often think books and buildings and then when they heard that the libraries were closed earlier, then the idea is, well, there’s nothing available through the libraries,” says Kate Peterson, Undergraduate Services Librarian. “That’s something that we’ve really been working to correct and to say, yes, our physical libraries were closed, but our website is really the place to go to find the sources and the articles that you need for your research and your classes.”
Working on campus
Working at home did not suit the gregarious Bill Pederson, Music Library Coordinator. “I really enjoy working with the public and a lot of my job is helping people get what they need and just assisting people, problem solving and whatnot,” Pederson says. “Being stuck at home with two cats alone isn’t really my forte.”
He came back in June for a couple of months to help with a book moving project, which gave him a feeling of accomplishment. As the Libraries prepared to re-open, he helped figure out how to change procedures so that there is less contact between patrons and student employees.
For Anna Opryszko, working from home was challenging because she started her student supervisor position with the Libraries only after the buildings closed in March.
“I also am in a role where I need to be in a building touching physical materials and talking to people, so it was a shift to learn how to do aspects of the job without having any of those physical components,” she says. “But it was wonderful to work with people who were creative in their ways of adapting to that.”
Coming into Wilson a month ago, she not only had to learn new processes, but also faced a pile of returned books. Once the student employees returned, she and her fellow student supervisors made sure processes were adapted to keep them safe.
“I’m heartened by the fact that we have done a huge amount of preparation for this,” Opryszko says. “From the minute that we knew that students were going to be coming back at all, we’ve been in conversation to ensure that student employees, students themselves, faculty, anyone who has access to this building, will be able to enter it safely.”
Working from home
While Jen Neveau of the web development team misses the beautiful campus, her office, and her co-workers, she says she has a nice set-up at home for work. And the work continues to be “giving folks access to our online services and information about the libraries and our resources in a clear and accessible way,” Neveau says. “With the shift to online, it’s more important than ever to make sure that we’re ready to move with the pivots as they occur.”
The librarians have put their expertise into creating guides for subject areas and current issues for faculty and students. And the general public can use the libraries website search function with the open access filter to find holdings they can use, or find resources via U Media, the Minnesota Digital Library, MNLINK, and the Electronic Library of Minnesota.
Melissa Eighmy Brown, of Interlibrary Loan & Digital Delivery, says she likes working from home. “We can do a lot of our work remotely because a lot of it is just communicating with patrons about what they need and what we can access electronically.”
The team gets requests for materials not held at the Libraries through a link on the home page, via databases, and through the Libraries search. For items in the collection, they also can deliver digital copies of articles or chapters — “digital delivery can scan and deliver whatever you need from the print collection” — or, if need be, put a book in the mail for a remote user.
In addition, Eighmy Brown notes, “the Interlibrary Loan & Digital Delivery website also has a Suggest a Purchase form. Instructors can use that to request an e-book for the collection that is unlimited use for the whole class. Instructors can also contact subject librarians or course reserves to have them purchase any book.”
Ready to serve
Kim Clarke is a liaison to Communication Studies, Curriculum & Instruction, Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies, Organizational Leadership and Policy Development, and the Leadership Minor. In the past, she enjoyed impromptu meetings in the Wilson first floor lobby, where a lot of her work got done, along with scheduled meetings. Now working from home, she is still ready to serve.
“I’m still here. All my friendly colleagues that they’re used to working with are still here,” just in a different mode. She expects to be teaching more this semester, to help students doing capstone projects, for example, offering guidance on how to incorporate other writers and ideas while avoiding plagiarism.
For incoming graduate students, Clarke teaches them how to use the library more effectively as they prepare their literature review.
“That’s really going to be the bedrock of their written exams, their dissertation proposal, writing their special paper, their master’s paper and so on,” Clarke says. “That first assignment is really anxiety-producing, I think, because they want to do well, but I don’t feel like they feel like they know what the steps are in order to do well. They need a little bit of support and a little bit of encouragement to kind of direct them to some of the amazing resources that we have that’ll make their process go much more smoothly for them.”
Clarke also teaches undergrads how to approach writing a research paper, with help understanding a scholarly journal article, doing a bibliography, and, in general, navigating the library.
Advancing the U of M mission ‘in this crisis time’
Free library resources
For now, our library buildings are only available to current U of M students, faculty, and staff. However, a wealth of free online resources are available to Minnesotans.
In the past six months, Peterson says, it’s surprising how little has changed in her role supporting first- and second-year undergraduates. “A lot of the research that’s done by those students is done through our website, which of course has continued to be available, with all of our online resources, like our online books and journals and magazines and newspapers, our streaming videos — all of that has been available this entire time.”
Students also can schedule a research consultation with a librarian, book a 30-minute appointment with a Peer Research Consultant, or use the 24/7 Chat for a quick research question. They also may reserve a study room or a classroom in the Libraries to help them focus on their studies.
Pederson says he is happy that he and his colleagues “can do what we can to push the mission of the university forward and help students in this crisis time.”