How We Work During the Pandemic: Steve Silver

Hello ACRL-Oregon members! During this pandemic, the way we all work and serve our patrons has radically changed. Inspired by the bloggers at ACRLog, we thought we’d provide a window into how some of your Oregon colleagues are managing during this time.

We’d also love to hear from you! If you’d like to share your experiences on the blog, please feel free to email Meredith Farkas and respond to any or all of the following prompts:

  • What’s the situation at your institution, at the time of writing?
  • What is your day-to-day look like on the job right now?
  • What has surprised you most about library work during this crisis?
  • What has surprised you most about library work during this crisis?

This post is from Steve Silver, Library Director at Northwest Christian University who also was ACRL-Oregon President in 2017-18.

What’s the situation at your institution, at the time of writing?

Things are typically quiet around NCU in the summer, and even more so this year. We have very few if any on-campus summer classes, so this is giving us as an institution an opportunity to catch our breath and plan for the fall. NCU was better prepared than some for the rapid move to online teaching, plus we are on semesters so only had a few weeks (and no new term) to prepare for. So while that transition was certainly frantic, it was not quite the overwhelming amount of extra work that others have experienced. We have been in summer session since the 2nd week of May. For those last few weeks, and currently over the summer, the library is open by appointment so we can limit to one user in the library at a time. As a very small university (~800 FTE) with an even smaller on campus undergrad population (~350 I think), most of whom left campus, this worked very well for us. The library has the only computer workstations and only printer available to students, and our biblical studies collection, which supports many of our classes, does not have adequate online alternatives, so it was important to be able to provide some level of access while also practicing appropriate distancing, hygiene, and cleaning. It also gave us the chance to continue to offer employment to the few student workers who remained in the area. By only scheduling one in the building at a time and regular staff working from home we have been able to retain our usual summer student employment as well, which is a help to the library but even more so to these students who depend on that income for living expenses as well as school expenses. As of this writing (June 5) Lane County is entering phase 2 of the governor’s re-opening plan. We are still waiting to hear from our administration what that will mean for staff working in the building.

The really sad thing for us was commencement. We are changing our name to Bushnell University as of July 1, so this was literally the last graduating class of Northwest Christian University, and they did not get to have the usual commencement ceremony, which would have been an even bigger celebration this year. We are doing a virtual commencement (which will have already happened by the time you read this), plus graduating seniors are invited back to our winter commencement if they choose, where they will be especially honored. To prepare for the virtual commencement I had to retrieve my academic regalia from the library, and record a 3 second video congratulating our graduates. That was a lot of work and effort for three seconds! (but probably beats sitting in a warm gymnasium in robes for an hour and a half). Warm robes aside, I know I greatly missed being at commencement, the highlight of the year and the validation of the hard work we put in all year long.

What is your day-to-day look like on the job right now?

My wife and I are both primarily working from home. I have been in the library for a couple hours at a time less than once a week since work from home orders were put in place. We have strict guidelines about how many can be working in the library and where, so we track all on-site work schedules (including student workers) on a shared calendar. The library had already been in the process of transitioning to cloud-based file storage, and our IT was able to set me up with a VPN connection, so we have largely been able to continue work with adequate access to needed documents. I am set up in our den (with a nice view of the neighbor’s apple tree out the window) while my wife sets up with our laptop on the dinning table. If I need something from the kitchen I do need to check she’s not on a confidential call or video meeting first. One really lovely silver lining of this situation has been having lunch on our patio with my wife every day. That and sleeping in a bit each day I will miss when I return to a more regular schedule in the office.

How have you kept communication going with students, faculty, or other users?

Microsoft Teams and Zoom for communication with library staff and with our faculty and other NCU staff. We have a form on our website for students requesting appointment times, which feeds into the library’s Teams channel so we all get notified. Lots of individual texts and emails with our student workers. Our library staff meet bi-monthly for staff meeting, and I meet with each one individually bi-monthly as well. Those have continued virtually, plus we added a no-agenda check-in staff meeting on the weeks where no regular staff meeting was scheduled, just to chat and keep up with one another’s lives. Replaces the usual “hallway chats” we would have when physically in the building together.

The institutional Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) has locked down all campus-wide communications to flow through them, which has greatly restricted the library’s ability to communicate en masse to students or to faculty. I understand the need for a unified “voice” in communications in times of crisis, but it does impede the library’s ability to effectively serve in some ways.

What has surprised you most about library work during this crisis?

Two somewhat contradictory things. One, I have discovered that in many ways I actually enjoy working from home. Uninterrupted time has allowed me to be more productive to a certain extent (although the tedium of ALWAYS being home works against that to some extent). On the other hand, I find I greatly miss the personal interactions with staff and students – those very distractions that keep me from being more productive. I expect a full return to working in the office will include some regular time working from home moving forward, for me and potentially other library staff. NCU and the library have really been thinking about what we learn through this experience that will continue to help us serve better moving forward even after the pandemic is no longer an issue, and the demonstrated ability to work effectively remotely is high on that list.