UW Libraries Blog

March 15, 2020

A Message from the Dean: FAQ and Libraries Response To COVID-19

Lizabeth (Betsy) Wilson, vice provost for digital initiatives and dean of University Libraries

Betsy Wilson

Lizabeth (Betsy) Wilson is the Vice Provost for Digital Initiatives and Dean of University Libraries at the University of Washington in Seattle, Bothell, and Tacoma.

This post was updated on 3/21/20 6:40PM .

Along with many other public institutions, businesses and community members in our region, UW Libraries has been working continuously to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak in accordance with the University’s and Public Health – Seattle & King County guidelines. We recently announced additional changes to operations this week – all tri-campus Libraries are closed to the public effective 5PM March 17th. We are working at the forefront of this response, together with the University leadership and other partners, developing new policies and procedures and evolving our approach in real-time based on new data and information as it becomes available. While the University remains open, facilitating remote coursework and alternate ways to conclude the quarter, this is certainly not business as usual.

Changes will continue to happen quickly, and at times, without notice. We acknowledge the challenges of an unpredictable environment and the hardships that everyone in our community is facing in finding alternative options for working, studying and simply living life in this new normal.  It’s not easy. That said, I know that the collective ingenuity, creativity and generosity of our community will prevail, helping us all to move through these challenges together. I am inspired by the work that is happening in the Libraries and across campus that demonstrates this resolve and perseverance.

When it comes to operations planning and ensuring the safety and well-being of our staff and users, many factors go into the decision-making process and approach.  When changes happen, we expect questions.  To provide some context and insight into our process, a few of the most frequently asked questions are highlighted here:

How do you make the decision to close Libraries?

Recent closures reflect real-time decision making – where information and input received changes the approach from one day to the next. Balancing the critical needs of students during finals week with the ever-evolving situation in our community is an hour-by-hour, day-by-day assessment.

Last week, a very limited operational schedule was implemented, considering the current student demand, available staff, new information, and our robust capacity to use an online service model. The decision allowed for some modicum of technology access for those students who need it as well as faculty consultations for teaching and learning through finals week.

Based on site evaluations, even in this limited capacity, it was untenable to support stronger recommendations from public health for social distancing, and together with UW’s tri-campus leadership, the decision was made to close all Libraries.

Given that the University has provided free access to collaboration tools, it is possible for all students and faculty to continue collaborative work remotely in order to complete required work through the end of the quarter.

Is the policy the same for UW Tacoma and UW Bothell Libraries?

At this time, UW Tacoma and UW Bothell have announced closures to campus Libraries. Campus web sites should be consulted for the most up-to-date information on operational changes. That said, depending on the circumstances, campus Libraries may make different decisions at different times in consideration of the unique nature of the campus environment, capacity and governance structures.

How can Libraries support faculty and students?

While physical buildings will be closed for onsite use, the Libraries will fully staff our digital services such as 24/7 chat services, research consultations offered through Zoom, and so on.  We are confident we will be able to provide high quality support for teaching, research and clinical care, albeit remotely.

We are also expanding our bandwidth for working with faculty as they move their courses to online modalities. We’re expanding purchasing of ebooks of class readings and streaming media to support remote teaching.  Services and guidance for both students and faculty are outlined on the Libraries Services for Remote Learning. This page provides one, centralized resource to help support you as we move into a completely online spring quarter.

These modified operational changes allow us to continue to serve students, staff and faculty but also reduce risks for our users and our staff.

Where else can students access computers and technology equipment?

The student-run UW Student Technology Loan Program is allowing students to continue to check out equipment through the end of the quarter.

Will the Libraries re-open at the start of the quarter?

At this time, the Libraries will continue with its existing operational plan until the beginning of spring quarter.

As the University’s policies for classroom learning evolve, the Libraries will work in coordination to reassess and evaluate when and how to adjust operations as the situation evolves. We have not yet made a decision on whether or not to adjust our operational plan for spring quarter.  Priorities and decision-making are continually evolving as the situation evolves – on our campus, in our local community, and at the national/global level. We are taking steps to prepare and think through a variety of scenarios that include a case for extended remote services during spring quarter.  Above all, the health and wellbeing of our staff and users are at the center of these decisions.

How are Libraries staff able to work remotely?

The Libraries already had an existing and robust online service delivery model with a host of online services, and a campus community adept at accessing collections and services remotely. Many of our Librarians routinely work remotely via online chat, phone or email consultations, so that part of our work remains unchanged.

Thanks to the University of Washington’s robust infrastructure – IT, communications, professional expertise across diverse industries, and lightning fast work to make teleworking capabilities available, it was possible to execute a remote workforce plan essential for a successful and timely response across the University, including the Libraries. The majority of our staff our working remotely to provide a continuity in service that is possible as outlined here.

How can UW Libraries work with other Libraries to share information and tools?

By responding as quickly as possible to our colleague’s questions and participating in industry forums to share what we have learned through the process, we hope to contribute to the documentation on best practices that are being developed and honed in real time.  I want to underscore however, that every institution is unique. The size of an organization (and/or its user base), the timing of the academic year or other external factors, the existing infrastructure to execute system-wide implementation of new policies and procedures—these are just a few factors that could influence planning in a particular context. As with most solutions, there is no one singular approach that is going to be right for all, but we can help each other by sharing resources, tools and insights as we move forward collectively along the same path.

I have a question about Libraries operations- where can I go?

First, be sure to check out Libraries’ COVIV-19 web page and Libraries Services for Remote Learning. We welcome input, questions and opportunities for collaboration as we continue to learn from and respond to this unprecedented situation. If you have new ideas for how the Libraries can improve digital and remote services, or any other questions, please send your comments to us.

Thank you.

I would like to extend a huge thank you to UW Libraries staff, facilities crews and UW leadership for their support, guidance and overtime hours spent helping our community manage and respond to COVID-19.

As a reminder, the Libraries Coronavirus Update page is the best source for real-time updates and changes to UW Libraries operations.