Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, UC Santa Barbara’s University Library is currently making preparations to reopen its doors to students, staff and faculty for fall quarter.
After being closed for the past six months, the library recently underwent a massive deep cleaning — maintenance staff disinfected all public areas, dusted and polished stairwells, washed the fabric on chairs and even scraped over seven buckets’ worth of gum from underneath the tables, according to a UCSB Library Facebook post.
In addition to extensive cleaning, library staff have implemented drastic changes in the structure and layout of the library to further ensure student health and safety. Once the library reopens, student access will be restricted to sections of the first two floors in an effort to follow state and county guidelines limiting building density by percentage, while still maximizing student study space, Deputy University Librarian Alan Grosenheider said.
“It’s much easier for us to manage if it’s limited to a section of the first floor, or a section of the second floor, thus allowing us to not have as many people managing it, which allows more students to have seats,” he added.
Grosenheider also noted that Building A, the newest addition to the library, will likely be the first of the two floors to reopen, and study space will expand from there.
Along with floor restrictions, the library has also reduced its seating capacity to keep students six feet apart and encourage social distancing, according to Dave Kujan, library building operations manager.
“A table that normally would have had eight people … in group study rooms is reduced down to one chair in a room,” Kujan said. “I would just say that from the amount of study space we have opened up, student health and safety is paramount. If we just open up all our seats to the students, it would be opening up a problem.”
Kujan also said that the library is in the process of implementing a seat reservation system, which students must use to enter the library.
“We are going to require the reservation system for students to come into the building so we can do better tracking if we have an issue and maintain a controlled environment for health and safety,” Kujan explained.
The library is also enforcing other state, county and campus public health guidelines, like frequent handwashing and facial coverings. The library has ordered more hand sanitizer than “we ever have before” and implemented hand-wipe stations throughout the building, Kujan said. Facial coverings will be required for all staff and visitors, and those who do not wear one will be provided one or asked to leave by staff upon refusal, he added.
Despite sweeping changes in its structure and layout, the UCSB Library will strive to remain as an active resource for all students and faculty, both in person and remotely, according to Hannah Rael, library communications and marketing manager.
Rael said that in-person resources such as GauchoPrint and computer desktops will be open for use, along with the recently established pickup and mailing service available to all UCSB staff and students who wish to access physical materials.
As a member of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the University Library carries a mission to promote “intellectual engagement with the world of ideas and the creation of knowledge,” according to the library website. To continue this mission amidst current pandemic circumstances, the library has broadened its digital database to offer key in-person services that facilitate learning, Rael said.
That means moving services, such as course reserves, online.
“We’re working with faculty to get some of those up electronically, whether that’s via an e-book or we have staff scanning certain sections to make sure we have those available now,” Rael explained.
And the librarians, who normally provide in-person research consultations, will now be at the service of students via Zoom, she said.
“Obviously it’s not safe to meet face-to-face, but they’re still ready to answer questions. We [also] have a 24/7 chat service that’s available online if people need to get in touch with a librarian at any time,” according to Rael.
These digital services are accompanied by the library’s vast digital collection, which encompasses nearly 90% of the University Library’s entire collection, Grosenheider said. Additionally, by gaining emergency access to the HathiTrust, a collaborative digitization service for academic and research libraries, the library has enabled students and faculty to immediately access digitized material across all UC libraries.
“The biggest service the library provides is ensuring access to the vast amount of electronic resources that make up most of the use of our collection — electronic journals and books. When we look at what is viewed or downloaded online versus what is checked out in print, it’s a 9-1 ratio,” Grosenheider noted.
With the reopening of higher education facilities dependent on state and county public health guidelines, the official reopening date of the University Library has yet to be decided. Public health guidelines are constantly evolving as more information about coronavirus is made available, which creates challenges in establishing a timeline for reopening, Kujan explained.
“The county is changing. We were doing great, and then all of the sudden we weren’t doing great, [and] everything that’s going on in I.V. [is] just leading to more complications. So [there’s] this idea that we’ve done a tremendous amount of planning for the hopeful reopening … [just] to put it on hold,” Kujan said.
Uncertainty aside, the University Library is working closely with campus administration and university task forces to coordinate its reopening under the safest possible conditions, along with the rest of the campus, Grosenheider said.
“We are doing our very best to ensure everyone’s health and safety — both [for] the students as well as the library employees,” he said.