Notes from the Executive Director – June 2020

Posted: June 1, 2020

Businesses and organizations everywhere are struggling with how to resume operating while minimizing risk to employees and customers alike. Things continue to change on a week-to-week basis, and much is still unknown. While many libraries have continued working and providing services online, it is a stressful time as staff are returning to library buildings and considering how and when to reopen. Some are advocating for curbside service, and others are against it. Many, including some MCLS members, are already facing major budget challenges that are causing pay cuts, furloughs, and layoffs.

In spite of all of these difficulties, libraries, organizations, and states are working hard to navigate through this time. Nationally, IMLS, OCLC and Battelle have created the Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) Information Hub, a three-phase research project on how long the current coronavirus survives on materials. The project draws upon expertise from a variety of constituencies, including international, national, and regional library organizations and consortia, as well as academic and public libraries. IMLS is also working with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help address the digital divide during the ongoing pandemic. ALA (and American Libraries) and Library Journal continue offering information on reopening and many other pandemic-related topics.

Indiana and Michigan have each released phased state reopening plans, following a series of governors’ executive orders. Some may find executive orders hard to interpret, and the Indiana State Library and the Library of Michigan have each offered informed analyses for libraries. Each state library also has a list (IN, MI) of considerations for having staff return and reopening the library, including links to OSHA and U.S. Department of Labor guidance. Many are finding their state’s library law consultant to be an indispensable resource. Indiana Library Federation (ILF) and Michigan Library Association (MLA) are also providing a wealth of information to public libraries in each state, including advocacy for including libraries in statewide reopening plans.

At MCLS, our Engagement, Consulting, and Training staff continue offering our Friday virtual dialogue series. The conversations have also continued via our Slack workspace, which is now up to 19 channels on a variety of topics, including reopening. If you’d like to join our workspace, please contact Library Strategist Pam Seabolt. Our Group Purchasing team has continued pursuing lower pricing for the next fiscal year, and we’re thankful that some publishers and vendors have begun offering zero-percent increases. We’ve heard very clearly from libraries about how impacted their budgets are going to be, and are heartened by all of our partners who recognize the difficult choices libraries will have to make, and are stepping up and making cases for greater access and better pricing. We are also offering a new group purchase opportunity for ConverSight.ai’s LIBRO app, which now includes curbside pickup features. The MeLCat and RIDES staff have created information about resuming RIDES and MeLCat service, including a helpful multi-stage checklist of initial steps libraries need to take, a list of RIDES courier precautions, and a “Ready for MeLCat” survey for libraries to complete that will become available when Michigan’s stay-at-home order is lifted.

We have an internal committee creating a list of recommendations for how we will reopen our Lansing office when possible, considering these and other points:

  • We will work according to the MI Safe Start plan, and will likely return in phases, perhaps limiting the number of staff in the office on any given day
  • Our staff will have the option to continue working from home, e.g., if they or close family have increased health risk, or child care remains closed
  • We will establish what “essential” means in terms of visitors and travel guidelines
  • We have budgeted for PPE, and increased disinfecting supplies
  • We will each take personal responsibility to follow the reopening practices MCLS establishes, and will revisit, update, and communicate those practices as needed

Before I close with some resources that may help you reduce stress and anxiety in these times, I’ll share a few examples of what some academic libraries are considering and planning as they and their campuses approach reopening. Library Journal recently featured a brief interview with Beth McNeil, Dean and Esther Ellis Norton Professor at Purdue University Libraries and School of Information Studies, on how Purdue’s libraries will respond to Purdue’s desire to reopen the campus for fall semester. At a recent Michigan Association of State Universities (MASU) Chief Librarians meeting, University of Michigan-Dearborn Mardigian Library Director Maureen Linker mentioned the idea of checking out time in the library to students, as a library would check out a laptop or a study room for a period of time, as a way to limit building traffic. Others around the Chief Librarians table are considering moving staff who typically work in shared workspace to study rooms temporarily to help them work physically apart.

As promised, here are some resources that may be helpful in reducing the stress so many are dealing with right now:

I’m grateful to you for taking the time to read this article, and for all of the great ideas libraries are sharing about how to meet today’s challenges. As always, if you have thoughts about how MCLS could help your library, please connect with me at garrisons@mcls.org.