The UW Tacoma Library doors have been closed since Mar. 17 when the campus shut down in order to comply with state regulations regarding COVID-19. The Library scrambled to try and find solutions to problems it barely knew existed with only a few days of notice. Justin Wadland, Interim Director of the UW Tacoma Libraries, discussed how they have been handling these changes.
When asked how he was feeling about the COVID-19 pandemic and how the Library had to respond, he explained it was an incredible ordeal.
“How do you close down a library?” Wadland questioned.
Issues presented themselves to the library staff quickly and in numerous ways. Numerous problems that confronted them were obvious enough: How does a library, a traditionally physical space, transition to an online only provider? Another problem that arose revealed the intersectional nature of the virus. Many of the staff members suddenly found themselves without child care assistance normally provided by schools and daycares, which had also closed down.
Wadland also discussed the new joint project between the Teaching and Learning Center, the Library and the Center for Equity and Inclusion. Named the Learning Commons, this is projected to be completed sometime between 2021 and 2022, but with the campus consisting of primarily remote learning, online outreach has been difficult.
“It’s hard to do this work because if it was here right now we couldn’t be in it,” Wadland said.
However, it has not been all setbacks at the library. Wadland described how RealLit[erature] — a library program aimed at helping individuals understand a wider range of experiences by reading narratives from varying perspectives — had shifted over online. Normally it ends during the summer, but this past summer quarter it was asked to keep going due to popular demand and won the 2019–2020 Team of the Year award.
“Social infrastructure is sickened by COVID,” Wadland said. “These are the things that because of COVID we cannot go on in a normal way. Cafes are closed. Some reopened, but restaurants, public libraries, all of these places are restricted. But with RealLit[erature], they transitioned onto an online model in the spring and it allowed them to continue.”
With so many strange hurdles, Wadland talked about the different things he and his team had learned:
“I’ve learned a lot about stuff like I’ve had to educate myself a lot about covid transmission like HVAC, airflow, masks, so, I think Libraries and library staff are uniquely suited to quickly learn unique domains of information and adapt that and analyse information and base decisions on that . . . As we have shifted to this fully online realm we are very aware of the power and presence of physicality.”
When asked what advice and information he had for students, he explained that students should start at the website and that library staff is available to help. There is a 24/7 chat reference available and drop-in chat being experimented with. He also wanted students to know that the UWT Library was working to get curbside pickup — which would include items such as laptops and calculators — quickly running. Finally, they recognize the need for study space, and as soon as it is available they will be offering it again.