(Written by Bart Ragon, MLIS, Ed.D., Interim Director, and edited by Kimberley R. Barker)
2020 has been a year of unprecedented challenges, marked by a global pandemic and the need for social justice reform. Research shows that extreme events sometimes produce rapid shifts and evolutionary responses and, like most organizations during the pandemic, the Library was forced to evolve quickly. For me, it became an opportunity to witness firsthand what a dedicated group of professionals can accomplish under extreme circumstances.
At the beginning of 2020, the Library prepared to embark on a bold new strategic vision, imagining a library built on the exploration of new opportunities, strong team members, unique services, and an environmentally responsible space. The emergence of the pandemic shifted our focus, but many of the principles we imagined became our guideposts for working during a pandemic. I’m proud to share some examples of the hard work and dedication of Library team members who have risen to the challenges of 2020 and continue to strive to provide exemplary services at UVA Health.
The Library is very fortunate to have Dan Wilson’s leadership in emergency planning. Dan is known nationally for his expertise in disaster readiness, having served as the Coordinator of the Emergency Preparedness & Response Initiative for the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) from 2007 – 2014. Dan led our leadership team and staff in developing a tiered approach to the delivery of library services and access to spaces throughout the pandemic.
After the UVA-mandated closure of its physical space in March, the Health Sciences Library service desk reopened on May 18th, becoming the first academic health sciences library in the country to reopen its service desk after the shutdown (note: access to the 24-hour space was never closed). Library team members Dave Denton, Lucy Jones, and Tenzin Thomson were the first team members back and have been vital to the Library's operation. Day after day, they are there to answer patron questions, monitor library spaces, reserve rooms, and provide a friendly and helpful face at the Library.
Along with staffing the desk, a lot of work goes into prepping and maintaining the Library to ensure that it is a safe environment for patrons and staff. Kyle Bowman and Lara Andrake worked behind the scenes to ensure that Plexiglas barriers were installed and that Library staff and patrons had access to PPE supplies.
Kyle and Lara continue to make sure that Library staff working both remotely and on-site have access to the supplies they need to conduct their work. Kimberley Barker produced a countless number of signs, and social media and blog posts to help library patrons understand the need and requirements for social distancing, face coverings, and space limits. She also helped Library patrons stay current with how to connect to services, events, and resources virtually, and skillfully communicated changes in policy and access.
Throughout the pandemic, librarian liaisons and data specialists have continued to provide their excellent professional services remotely via Zoom. This includes our School of Medicine and School of Nursing liaisons Karen Knight and Dan Wilson, respectively. Karen found creative ways to stay connected to medical students through a private Facebook group that she created and by hosting a virtual SOM Pet Parade to lift morale and help the students get to know members of the new First Year class. When COVID-19 restrictions in the Medical Center first went into effect, students who were pulled from clinical rotations suddenly had time to begin or continue research projects. This resulted in an unprecedented demand for literature searching and reference support. Karen teaches classes within the SOM curriculum and supports medical students throughout their four years at UVA. She recently completed work on providing personalized written narrative feedback to the 156 students in the first year class on their genetics directed clinical letter assignment in the Foundations System. Dan was able to quickly pivot to virtual support of SON students and faculty members and worked out a plan with the Service Desk team so that the new class of CNL students had access to the Library despite a delay in receiving a UVA Health ID. His quality of support has actually improved, as through screen-sharing with students he was able to see where gaps in knowledge were happening and was able to coach them through their challenges.
Despite all of the curriculum adjustments, the number of consultations during the pandemic have remained about the same as in previous years. Our clinical and quality librarians, Elaine Attridge and Kate Joshua, work on information requests, big and small. Elaine worked with the UVA Health Ethics Committee to provide up to-the-minute information on allocation of resources (specifically ventilators) and participated in a multi-disciplinary team evaluation of pre-surgical interventions meant to enhance our patients' recovery after surgery. Kate collaborated on systematic reviews, and supported information requests related to patient care and evidence based practice.
Library Data Specialists Marieke Jones and David Martin taught all of their scheduled Fall open enrollment workshops (virtually) on using the R statistical programing language, SPSS, and Qualtrics. They also taught BIMS 8380: Basics of Study Design, Practical Statistics and 8382: Data Sciences for Biomedical Data Scientists, as well as data science techniques to the iTHRIV Scholars. While medical students were pulled from clinical rotations due to the pandemic, Marieke and David collaborated with Karen Knight to teach a data science elective in the curriculum, titled "Utilizing Healthcare Data in Research".
The Library’s Research and Data Services (RDaS) department includes Andrea Denton, Mike Wilson, and Arian Abdulla. They supported faculty in their Promotion and Tenure process by providing customized reports on their publication data, including times sites, impact factor, category, and rank. They also supported larger departmental and school in customizing reports that assist our institution in understanding its value and impact. In the last in-person event before shutting down in March, RDaS (along with Kate Joshua) hosted Visualizing Information and Data in 20/20 (Viz Day), which included partners from iTHRIV and UVA Research Computing. Viz Day events had 184 registrations and feedback from participants was very positive.
When the Library IT department realized the enormous training need that existed with transitioning to remote teaching and work environments, they quickly developed a curriculum on how to best utilize teleconference and instructional technology at UVA. Lead by David Moody, team members Anson Parker and Stephanie Fielding instructed faculty and staff in how to use Zoom, Webex, and other collaborative technologies for providing virtual classroom instruction and for conducting department meetings. He also formed a UVA Zoom user group so that members of UVA Health could learn from each other’s experiences. Anson Parker participated in a Unix/Python scripting for bioinformatics course that was quickly arranged for the spring semester in response to need created by the pandemic. When the Library transitioned to a remote service model, Stephanie Fielding continued to provide video services remotely and, as the Library reopened its doors, she developed the "Video Production Service during the Pandemic" service that allows patrons to produce multimedia content is a safe and physically distanced way.
Unfortunately, the pandemic financially impacted UVA Health, and a 23% reduction to the Library’s budget forced personnel and collection cuts. Personnel cuts resulted in open positions remaining unfilled and reduced hours of operation; collections cuts primarily impacted journal subscriptions. Dan Wilson and Abbey Heflin worked very carefully to assemble and analyze subscription data to ensure a minimal impact to faculty, staff, and students. Behind the scenes, Jeri Davis and Monica Washington continued to quickly fulfill interlibrary loan and document delivery requests. Publishing models will continue to evolve even post-pandemic, but Abbey has her eyes on the future. In October, she partnered with UVA University Libraries to host a virtual Open Access Week. OA Week shared news about preprints, repositories, Open Education Resources (OER), and professional online identity (with contribution from Kimberley Barker).
The Library and its staff were, and continue to be, deeply impacted by the tragic injustices and violence against George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others. Spearheaded by Kimberley Barker, a working group was organized and includes Kate Joshua, Lara Andrake, Dan Cavanaugh, Kyle Bowman, David Moody, and Bart Ragon. The Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) Working Group is charged with identifying and removing obstacles to IDEA within the Library, in five areas: Staff, Policies, Collection, Services, and Spaces. The Library also plans to collaborate with other UVA entities, including but not limited to, the Vice President’s Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the SON’s IDEA team, the SOM’s Office for Diversity, GME’s Diversity and Inclusion & House Staff Council for Diversity and Inclusion (HCDI).
I think that we are all looking forward to the day when the pandemic is behind us, but it also important to capture this moment so that future generations can learn from it. Dan Cavanaugh leads Historical Collections team members Emily Bowden and Janet Pearson; in March they began the COVID-19 Web Archives project in order to document the impact of the pandemic at UVA and in Central Virginia. In partnership with University of Virginia Libraries, the project is building a large collection of ephemeral online content, including websites, news articles, videos, podcasts, and blogs. As always, the Historical Collections team preserves and makes accessible the historical record of UVA Health, so that future generation will not forget what we all experienced in 2020 and beyond.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the leadership of Gretchen Arnold, former Library Director, who retired in October. Gretchen served UVA health for 34 years, with 15 of those years as the leader of the Library. I know at the beginning of 2020, Gretchen had planned to retire with the Library operating at maximum capacity and headed towards a bright future. Instead, she spent her last eight months navigating the troubled seas of a pandemic to ensure that the Library could have the bright future she desired. The foundation of services that Gretchen built allowed the library to sustain and excel during the most challenging year it has ever faced.
Throughout the pandemic, I have been reminded of the great words of J.R.R. Tolkien: when Frodo said, “I wish it need not have happened in my time," Gandalf responded, "So do I…and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” We all know that this unprecedented time will affect us for years to come, leaving its indelible mark on all of us, but bring on 2021 and the vaccines.
The library looks forward to returning to some sense of normalcy, but also to bringing with us the evolutionary spirit that we developed in 2020. As Gandalf said, we get to choose what to do with the time that is given to us.
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