UW Libraries Blog

July 29, 2020

UW Libraries Reopening Plans: A Message from the Dean

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

To our UW Community,

Libraries are essential to research, teaching and learning at UW. We acknowledge how challenging the ambiguity of this time is, and the desire to confirm plans and expectations for Fall quarter and beyond. Our planning teams have been working hard to develop a phased reopening approach, aligned with public health requirements and UW Safe Start guidance. The Libraries is operating under its Phase 2 prevention plans. The Libraries Phased Reopening Chart provides clarity around what to expect, based on current plans. With 16 libraries, a wide variety of physical spaces, 350 staff, and extensive physical collections, there are many considerations that factor into planning efforts, including the UW Libraries HathiTrust partnership. First and foremost, is the health and safety of employees, students, faculty and our users. The goal of this message is to provide insight into our approach as we move into Phase 2 and look ahead to Phase 3. While we do not know how the current public health situation will evolve in our community, a transition from one phase to the next is dependent on significant changes to public health status and the development of new prevention plans at each stage to ensure the health and safety of all.

Assessment and preparation is required to open spaces and services on site. In Phase 2, a very limited number of staff are returning to work on site for the first time in five months. Their priority is to get circulation systems and other critical functions into working order. At the same time, we are testing Phase 2 operational models to assess and inform facility and policy changes that will ensure the health and safety of our employees and users. During this preparatory and assessment phase, the Libraries buildings will not be open to the public.

Providing safe spaces to study are top-of-mind. We understand that students need safe spaces to study, and that the Libraries are a home-away-from-home for many—whether you live on campus or not. To fill this critical need, we are evaluating operational models that could potentially allow designated Libraries spaces to safely open for individual study in a limited capacity. This planning is highly informed by the work we are doing now in Phase 2, and also by our experience opening up limited spaces at the onset of COVID-19 in March, when social distance guidelines were not as well understood or observed in our spaces. Students’ commitment and willingness to protect each other will be essential to the Libraries’ ability to open and maintain study areas. When that time comes, we know our UW community will support each other in helping to maintain a healthy community.

Access to physical materials is a priority. We know that access to physical materials is important for student and faculty success, especially for certain disciplines that rely on physical collections. As we assess feasibility of services in each phase, availability of certain materials may be expanded, however, access to special collections, government publications, maps, microforms and other branch materials is not anticipated through Phase 4 at this time. Our priority in Phase 2 is to enable access to available physical materials by implementing a curbside pick-up system Because this is a new service, we cannot estimate a start date until we have more time on site to assess feasibility. As soon as we have a better sense of timing for the launch of this new service, we will share plans publicly on our Libraries COVID Update page, social media and through centralized UW communication channels.

We are designed for online services and support.  UW Libraries has offered online teaching and learning support for many years. Our staff continue to provide a full range of online support from consultations for writing and research, to interactive learning events, and 24/7 services. At the onset of COVID, our staff worked quickly to bolster electronic resources across disciplines and continue to help faculty navigate course selection in a complex publishing environment. Interlibrary loan continues to facilitate resource sharing from other locations. The Libraries’ liaisons and digital scholarship team are dedicated to helping UW scholars find, create, share, and use research in new ways online. For new students who are entering UW for the first time, our Undergraduate Student Success team has great virtual orientations and other outreach activities planned for the Fall.

Offering high-quality online services is part of what we do. It’s not a substitute for studying in the great Suzzallo reading room, but our dedicated staff have shown us that the Libraries are much more than a beautiful, iconic space. Our Libraries are a center of knowledge and scholarship—no matter what Phase our community is in.

We share your concerns and understand your desire to open the Libraries’ physical spaces.  Once Phase 2 is further underway, and we have the data needed to confirm services like curbside pick-up, open book returns and Phase 3 operations, we will share dates and plans accordingly. Updates to our operations are always posted and shared on our COVID-19 Update page and social media channels as soon as changes are made.  As always, Libraries 24/7 service is here to answer your questions.

We appreciate your input during this unprecedented time. Thank you for continuing to provide us with your feedback and for the opportunity to collaborate with you as we continue to refine our operational approach.


Lizabeth (Betsy) Wilson

Vice Provost for Digital Initiatives and Dean of University Libraries