I am lucky, I work for a university which puts it’s people first led by a VC who has shown amazing leadership this week. When I emailed my Student and Academic Services Director to say I wanted to close the service on Monday, the reply was “I agree but we just need to sort a few bits out (not least Halls)”. By Tuesday morning we were closing down all face to face Library and Archives Services by end of that day and every member of staff who was in on Tuesday was there voluntarily. (There are building issues meaning it wasn’t possible to close all spaces until 5pm Friday but more on that another time – the uni managed the close down amazingly well).
My amazing team have seamlessly moved online, the library hasn’t closed, we have moved online.
Since then I have been contacted by countless friends and acquaintances across Academic Libraryland of all levels, other heads of service and directors, Academic Liaison, Content, Information Assistants and frontline who want to close. In most cases there is a block higher up which is preventing the physical closure of space. There are people tirelessly taking themselves into work because of good intentions around the students or because they feel bullied into going in. Library people are good people but the cost of all this on their wellbeing both mentally and physically is going to be huge. The outcry over the Coventry University Library Tweet about business as usual just shows the level of disconnect between some institutions and their teams. It is not business as usual.
Now the buck has to stop with VCs if they are open then they are responsible for putting the health and wellbeing of every member of staff and every student not social distancing. People may well die as a direct result of these VCs actions.
There are different reasons why people are open (more below) but now the time has come to email or tweet (they will hate it being public) your VCs and COOs and use the following reasons to close (depending on your institutional culture).
If we don’t close the effect on our reputation will be impossible to repair. We won’t be able to recruit the best staff or the students if we are seen to have ignored the needs of our staff and students.
If we don’t close now we will have a team of staff who will be unwilling to return to work, who feel unvalued and won’t be motivated when we reopen.
If we don’t close we run the risk of being sued (especially if people don’t feel able to wash their hands or use sanitizer).
If we don’t close people will die as a direct result of us being open.
These are the most common reasons given for staying open
We have students who can’t get home.
Every single university faced this, including ones with huge careleaver, estranged and international students cohorts. They worked their socks off last week to do managed shut downs and provide solutions. In some cases colleagues are staying in halls. There are solutions, you just have to ask the people who have done it. They will have worked things through so you can do it quicker.
We don’t want staff who are idling at home
If this is your culture then you need to use this time to take a hard look at yourself. None of my team are idling, they feel valued and respected (I hope) and have gone above and beyond to minimise disruption for students. They are doing what they do brilliantly in physical spaces online.
We are the only place for students to go
Do I need to spell it out? Social Distancing means we don’t want students to go anywhere. What makes a huge library which can hold hundreds of students a sensible place to be open? You are just encouraging people to mix together which is the exact opposite of what you should be doing. One library I have heard of had 100 students in at 7pm. 100. In one space. More than they usually have.
The library is an essential service
It is and it isn’t. Yes students need access to resources and our expert teams but they can do that online. Our physical spaces now are dangerous, they are the opposite of essential. We were lucky – we had chat already going and a great online delivery anyway but all services have now had a week to sort this stuff out. Now is the time to demonstrate how essential library resources and expertise is not the just the spaces.
Chris Bourg explains this all better than I ever could here https://chrisbourg.wordpress.com/2020/03/15/close-the-library/
We aren’t online already
We have moved our other Student Centre helpdesks online and go live tomorrow – this took us a week on top of everything else. It is do-able but only if you have a team who know you have got their backs.
Contact the VCs
Remember now it is the VCs who need to be petitioned. Library Heads of Service and Directors need to make it clear to their colleagues that they would be closed and to call out the people stopping this happening.
Not a single academic library worker should be going into work on Monday fearful for their lives, they may not have told you they are but they are contacting me and tallking about it on social media to say they are.
Move online and keep safe.