As the fall semester grows close, staff members at William & Mary Libraries feel prepared to safely reopen and operate through the uncharted waters of a pandemic.
It’s a challenge David Morales, head of circulation, embraces with a high dose of enthusiasm.
“The challenges ahead are high stakes, and knowing that my library colleagues are smart, motivated and resourceful has me excited about meeting those challenges,” Morales said.
Following advice and regulations from the CDC, Virginia governor's office and W&M COVID Response Team, W&M Libraries implemented a phased approach to reopening. In the spring during the initial phase, the library buildings were closed to the public, and services, such as research appointments, were offered online. The summer months ushered in the next phase, which included contact-free pick up of library materials.
Library staff are very excited to transition to a new phase on Aug. 10, when campus libraries will open to students, faculty and staff for limited hours (8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday). Library users will be allowed to use public computers and printers, browse collections, check out library materials and study. The libraries will be open only to the W&M community; everyone will have to show their W&M ID when entering the buildings.
“We are working hard to make our buildings safe places for our campus community to visit this fall,” said Lisa Nickel, associate dean of research and public services. “Our staff are wearing masks and social distancing while in the building, and our housekeeping staff have instituted new cleaning procedures.”
Once classes begin and student employees are hired, the libraries plan to be open from 8 a.m.-10 p.m., remaining open only to the W&M community. Interlibrary Loan and delivery service will resume normal operations, Special Collections will be available by appointment, and study rooms will be open with reduced capacity.
Morales makes it clear W&M Libraries will not be the same place it was under normal circumstances.
"Students should expect changes because of new health and safety guidelines,” Morales said. “Our goal has been to create a place where students see our commitment to the health of our community."
A large part of creating a safe environment is de-densifying Swem’s building. Morales and other library workers have teamed together to reconfigure work/study areas in a format suitable for social distancing.
Carrie Cooper, dean of University Libraries, explained a significant contribution to the de-densification effort is removing shelves and increasing the natural light in the largest open study space in Swem Library on the first floor. Read & Relax will double in size, and 10,000 square feet of study space has been reclaimed.
“The move of the Government Documents collection allows us to spread the tables and retain the number of seats,” Cooper said. “Our students are going to love the expansive views and the ability to be in the company of others while practicing healthy behaviors.”
Before reopening, the facilities will be equipped with hand sanitizer stations, plexiglass shields at service desks and marked pathways for elevators and stairwells. An additional change includes changing the flow of people through the building. Users will continue to enter through the front doors, but will now exit through doors on the ground floor. Nickel shared that library staff know this change will be a challenge, but hopes that library users appreciate the changes are made to enable library users to remain socially distant from one another.
Morales added a driving force behind each decision was to ensure the students remain not only safe but also have an enjoyable fall.“We have worked hard to make it the best experience possible for them under the circumstances,” Morales said. “We know it’s going to be different, but we are trying to be thoughtful about the decisions we make. Meeting our students’ needs is still our top priority.”