Associate Director for Collections & Library Services Dan Wilson
This article was written by Dan Wilson, and edited by Kimberley R. Barker.
As I have a background in disaster preparedness, I have assisted the Jefferson Madison Regional Library (JMRL) with their emergency planning for the last several years. In the beginning we met irregularly but, in the months leading up to the Unite the Right event, we began meeting regularly and, in the past two years, began meeting quarterly and extended the group to include the Albemarle County Emergency Preparedness Coordinator.
Unfortunately, JMRL pandemic planning overlapped with the Library’s, so I had to drop out of their planning process. But I was so impressed with its pandemic planning process that, on April 28th , 2020, I suggested to the Library’s executive team that we create our own Pandemic Planning Task Force. Library Director Gretchen Arnold liked the idea and asked me to co-chair the task force with our administration manager, Kyle Bowman.
Our initial thought about task force membership was to include the Library’s executive team, managers, and our communications librarian. Kyle added the idea of inviting any interested staff to join the task force and I agreed. After extending the invitation to all staff, two people expressed interest in joining and we scheduled our first meeting for April 30th, 2020..
During that first meeting, we were told that the clinics were likely to reopen on May 8th, 2020, which meant that we had a lot of ground to cover if we were going to reopen on Monday, May 11th , 2020 (the clinics' reopening date was later moved to May 15th, giving us a bit more time).
In order to save time and with no need to reinvent the wheel, I decided that it would be best for the task force to use JMRL’s existing tier model and, based on that, I drafted a four-tier structure for our purposes. The tiered model has been an iterative process as necessary revisions were made as conditions changed. Click through to view the Library's Operational Tiers (Pandemics) document.
Tier Five was never activated.
Tier Four was active from Thursday, March 19, 2020- Sunday, May, 17, 2020.
Tier Three was active from Monday, May 17, 2020 through Sunday, June 28, 2020.
Tier Two was activated on Monday, June 29, 2020, and remains in effect, as of the publication of this newsletter.
For Tiers Two and Three, the following rules were established for onsite staff:
1. All reporting staff must take the daily Employee Attestation survey before reporting to work.
2. All staff must wear a protective mask when in shared workspaces and hallways. (The library is providing masks for staff members, and these are available at the Service Desk or in the Administration suite.) Masks do not need to be worn in closed private workspaces.
3. Staff bathrooms on the second floor may be used, but only by one person at a time. To show that the bathroom is in use, please put a Post-it note on the door.
4. All staff must remain socially distanced (6 feet) from other staff during the duration of their shift. To reduce contact with fellow staff, the main staff hallway will be one-way from the Administrative suite to the entrance to the Collections Department.
5. All regular Library meetings will continue taking place using ZOOM.
6. Frequent handwashing is encouraged.
7. Only scheduled Service Desk team members and essential staff (as needed) should be in the Library during onsite service hours. Housekeeping and Facilities may also be in staff workspaces, as needed.
8. All Service Desk team members must use the disinfecting wipes provided by the Library at their workspace at the end of their shift. (Service Desk team members will be assigned their own keyboard, mouse, and office space.)
On the Thursday before reopening, the task force focused on the following items:
• Kyle reported that someone from Housekeeping would be assigned to the library during the day, but she will have other buildings as well. He also reported that one cleaning person will be assigned to the Library at night for a deep cleaning.
• Our IT team prepared office space for two Service Desk team members who lacked them.
• The task force finalized staff safety protocol for Tier 3.
• Kyle took ownership of listening to any concerns about how we are approaching reopening.
The task force also agreed that the IT team should remove all shared equipment, minus six hospital computers which are sometimes an essential tool for hospital staff needing access to the UVA Health floor build, including their specific drives. Kimberley Barker, our communications librarian, led a special signage workgroup that designed several signs for posting around the library. In addition, Kimberley developed a communications plan that covered our different social media platforms.
Initially, we were planning to reduce seating by storing nearly 200 chairs in our Cabell Room, which will remain closed throughout the pandemic as it holds our general book collection. However, just before we were going to take action, guidelines came out suggesting that group study rooms not be available.
On the morning of Sunday, May 17th, I moved all but 50 chairs to our six study rooms and a conference room. When I was finished, I had registered nearly 9,000 steps on my Fitbit. Our Service Desk manager, Dave Denton, came in while I was moving chairs and posted signs that were designed by Kimberley Barker and printed by Kyle Bowman. It was the first time in 60 days that I was physically working with a member of the library team. We were socially distanced and wearing masks, so we were safe, but it was still an odd feeling.
We reopened on Monday, May 18th. Our Service Desk manager and a member of the Service Desk team worked that day, taking turns at the desk. In anticipation of the need for Service Desk team members to get away to a safe place to relax or eat, each member of the Service Desk team was assigned office space. At reopening, we had an ample supply of staff PPE (masks, gloves, and sanitizing supplies). The only item we still weren’t able to procure was hand sanitizer, so we made certain that Service Desk team member knew that they could leave the desk at any time to wash their hands. In order to eliminate the need for staff to touch the phone at the Service Desk, it was decided that, when patrons called the Library, they would be directed to voicemail where the message would inform them of both the Library's hours and that all communications are continuing to take place on the library’s website, primarily through the Ask Us form.
Overall, very few adjustments needed to be made during our first two weeks of reopening. Abbey Heflin closely monitored the gate count, but it fluctuated very little over the first two weeks, settling in at around 50 patrons per day. Due to the low number of patrons, we were able to adjust our staffing model. Instead of asking Service Desk team members to work a full day, we were able to schedule one person to work 8:00 AM - 12:30 PM and another to work 12:30 PM - 5:00 PM. This eliminated the need for enclosed office space and access to kitchen appliances. Service Desk Manager Dave Denton and Director of Information Technology David Moody were collaborating on a contactless checkout system for physical materials. Patron questions centered around the Library's cleaning schedule, the square footage of the Library's meeting spaces (for those planning classes with an eye towards enforcing social distancing
During the third week of reopening, gate count numbers continued to hover around 50 patrons per day. It was reported that School of Medicine students would begin returning in the middle of June, and that by the end of June there might be need for additional Library spaces. As with the second week, very few adjustments were needed.
On the Monday of the fourth week of reopening, we began posting an hourly occupancy rate. This was done manually by Service Desk team members who counted the number of patrons using the Library. Since we had reduced the number of available seats to 50, occupancy was easily calculated by multiplying the number of patrons in the library by two. Occupancy was posted on our home page in the COVID-19 Update banner.
Another item that we looked into during the fourth week of reopening was purchasing contactless door openers for staff, which we eventually did.
The Pandemic Planning Task Force’s work isn’t finished, and won’t be for some time. Each member understands that we’re in this for the long haul, and each is committed to staying the course and protecting each other and our patrons.