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Ingenuity is Key for COVID-Era Library Services

March 9, 2021
Law Library focuses on access, service, and community during pandemic
Book Ionizer

When it comes to operating a law school during a pandemic, librarians face a particularly unique set of obstacles – from connecting remote students with resources to navigating the complexities of socially distanced seating. Fortunately, the Muse Law Library was well equipped to take on the challenge with a bit of ingenuity and some hard-working staff.

When the pandemic started in spring 2020 and students all transitioned to remote learning, library staff went into emergency response mode, helping get students access to materials that were locked in their library study carrels, scanning and delivering assigned readings, or even connecting students with blue book materials.

Entering the fall, though, “we knew … that there were going to be some people consistently remote, and some people partially remote who may or may not be on campus on a regular basis,” said Roger Skalbeck, Associate Dean for Library and Information Services. Skalbeck and his staff were tasked with developing solutions that would provide library services and resources to multiple constituencies.  

Some of the solutions were logistical. For example, “One thing we recognize as a value to our students is to sample classes during the drop/add period,” said Skalbeck. That means they might need access to a book, but don’t want to commit to purchasing it yet. At the same time, students were concerned about the possibility of germs transmitted through shared books. To speed up turnaround time and cut down on germs, the library purchased a book ionization device. “It looks a little bit like an easy bake oven,” described Skalbeck. The book goes in, a switch goes on, and the book is decontaminated and safe to loan out to the next student.

The library also launched a reservation system to allow students to book a socially distanced seat in the library, and expanded their live chat and virtual meeting options to give students access to the expertise of reference and research librarians. At the same time, they adapted their physical space, working with the University to remove and store seats to maintain physical distancing.

Some library services came in the form of providing solutions to unforeseen issues. With the hybrid approach to the academic calendar, some students were left with morning and evening classes in-person in the law school building, with a mid-day class offered virtually. The library stepped in to provide private study rooms to those students who needed a quiet place to attend class and engage in online discussions without leaving the building.

Aside from connecting students and faculty with resources, the library staff have also been hard at work trying to foster community and real-time personal connections. That work took several forms, including adopting a new appointment scheduling technology to facilitate easier connections between students and faculty. The library also worked with the Counseling and Psychological Services office to provide dedicated space for students who need private space to meet virtually with the law school counselor.

In “normal times,” the library typically serves as a meeting place, where students might gather to catch up with one another. That atmosphere has certainly changed during the pandemic. But what hasn’t changed is the commitment to connecting students with the resources they need to succeed in law school.  “A constant refrain across the library team is the idea that ‘service is our only work product,’” said Dean Skalbeck. “In the current climate, we see this as a foundational challenge to serve students safely.”