Working From Home

Staffing the Library…From Home

The COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent stay-at-home order that followed it have led to significant changes for many people, businesses, and organizations, and the CMU Libraries is no exception. When the university first announced classes would be moved online and staff would be working from home, there were many questions to be answered: Would the entire library building remain open? Would part of the building be open? Would staff members be required to work in the building, or could they work from home? What tasks could we do from home and what wouldn’t we be able to do? When will we be back in the building?

By now the frantic situation of late March has settled into a more regular routine (which is not to say we don’t miss being in our library!), and one thing is very clear: the CMU Libraries is well-equipped to do what needs to be done in a fully online situation. With the exceptions of our physical collection and our spaces, our materials and services are available electronically. In many ways, business continues as usual despite the fact library staff members are working from their home offices, kitchen tables, couches, and, on sunny days, front porches.

Over the past two decades university libraries have become increasingly digital, to the point that most of their collections are now available online, from both inside and outside the library. Almost all the CMU Libraries’ journals are available electronically, and we now offer access to more electronic books than print books. We’ve moved our services online too, making chat, email, and videoconferencing our primary modes of assistance.  Much of this happened for CMU earlier than for other institutions because of the libraries’ need to support Global Campus students and faculty. It means we’re in a good position to keep helping our users despite the shutdown. Below are a few ways the library has been doing this during the past seven weeks.

The librarians in the Library Research & Instruction Services (LRIS) department continue to provide research to help students and faculty via chat, email, and phone during regularly scheduled shifts, and they are taking appointments for telephone and online in-depth research consultations. They’re also meeting with classes via WebEx to provide library instruction. Getting research help is as easy as it’s ever been.

The library’s collections continue to be accessible to CMU users from remote locations. In addition to the electronic journals, books, and streaming media we’ve made available for some time, many publishers have temporarily opened up their collections to all users, meaning even more resources are available to CMU users.

Documents on Demand has been especially busy during this time, delivering articles, book-chapters, and more to students and faculty. The staff is not working in the building right now so they’re unable to pull print books and journals to make scans, but they have worked hard to find electronic copies of those items at other institutions. Their effort makes sure student assignments and faculty research continue during this unusual time.

Acquisitions and Metadata Services (AMS) staff members have been making sure library users have reliable access to the online resources we own. They have also been making available links to the resources publishers have given expanded access to during this pandemic period. It’s been a lot of work on their end, but well worth it for our users. Staff members have also been processing print book orders from the librarians though shipments of those books have been held until AMS staff return to the library. There will be mountains of boxes to unpack at that time.

Access Services is the department responsible for maintaining building services and the staff members have been busy watching webinars and reading about safety and access issues once institutions can reopen. They want to make sure building staff and library users are safe when they return to the Park Library. This unit is also responsible for loading course reserve materials into Blackboard in support of CMU’s online classes and has been preparing to launch a Textbook Affordability Program.

Our Library Systems department was a key player in library staff making the transition to remote work. Systems staff members prepped laptops to provide to library employees without computers at home, allowing them to continue doing their work. Systems staff members have also made adjustments to the library website to make it easier for students and faculty to find the articles, books, and streaming videos they need. Ensuring users have access to the library from wherever they are is always their priority. They’re also monitoring our systems and providing remote support to keep everyone operating at a high level. Library Systems staff members have also been involved in the training needed to move students and faculty into a fully online environment.

Business Services staff members are paying the bills, processing payrolls, and doing their many jobs from home too. This office is also responsible for controlling access to the building, which means putting doors on timers so students can access our 1 North study area and making sure our building partners (like Curriculum and Instructional Support) have the access they need to do their work. The Exhibits and Projects Coordinator recently organized a virtual art show which showed off the creativity of the library staff and was a lot of fun, too.

The CMU Libraries’ Dean’s Office staff members have been actively pushing out information and doing their best to keep library staff, CMU personnel, and library users in the know during this unusual time. Communication is a focus of the office, both communicating with library staff and communicating with university leadership. The Dean holds regular update meetings and is overseeing the plans being made for how the library building can be opened safely when the green light is given by the State of Michigan and university leadership. Keeping people connected is a key part of what the Dean’s Office staff is doing now.

The staff of the CMU Libraries has been working very hard to maintain some normalcy in a very abnormal situation. With workflows and workdays having settled into routines, we are optimistically planning for a time when all of us, as well as our students and faculty, can return to the friendly confines of the Park Library. Until then, take care of yourselves and those around you, and be well.

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