2021: A full year like no other

Through January, we’re publishing year-in-review highlights from FY2021. Download a full PDF of this year’s Annual Report to read more!

A collage of signs with messaging like Welcome and Please Wear Face CoveringsIn summer 2020, the University knew a lot more about the coronavirus pandemic than it did when it began in the spring. Knowledge about masks and social distancing allowed for informed decision-making about building occupancies and facial coverings. At the Library, experiences from the prior semester informed the implementation of our adapted services, such as online research consultations and Zoom workshops, now that distance-only education was accepted as the “new normal.”

The Library was able to offer faculty, staff, and students at-will access to two of its buildings: Brown Science and Engineering Library, and Clemons Library. That said, these were very different places than they were only 6 months before. Peppered with floor-level reminders of social distancing, eye- level signage reminding visitors to wear masks and follow safety protocols, and physical limitations such as card swipe-only access and plexiglass, the spaces themselves held perpetual reminders of the inescapable pandemic moment.

The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library was able to begin offering in-person appointments in fall 2020, connecting faculty, staff, and students to Library collections in renewed tangible fashion. Additionally, Special Collections staff saw a notable increase in online reference requests, each requiring specialized attention from reference staff. The labor was significant — but the ability to enable access to collections while protecting safety of staff and patrons was critical.

Seeking positive patron experiences in a time of uncertainty

Two students study, heads down, each on a laptop, at a long table. The table has clear dividers between individuals, and students are wearing facial coverings.

The Library has many points of contact with visitors and patrons — some digital, like the Library website or Virgo; others physical, like the entryway to Clemons or LEO delivery to UVA departments. Since nearly all Library services were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly all points of contact were adjusted in an attempt to create clear and productive interactions between patrons and Library offerings. Additionally, it was important to make those interactions as low stress as possible considering the deep anxiety many were feeling due to COVID-19, economic instability, and significant social tensions and unrest.

In terms of digital interactions, the Library quickly realized that new solutions were needed to meet the reality of a rapidly shifting public health crisis. It was anticipated that viral numbers would rise, mask compliance would be a challenge, and that spaces would periodically need to close due to COVID exposure or non-compliance with University rules around facial coverings. Knowing that these transitions could cause extra strife for staff and patrons alike, the Library sought to create a centralized resource for at-a-glance information about current Library offerings.

The Status Dashboard was the result of this need, and the interface is anticipated to live on beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. The page outlines services in three categories: Access to Materials, Assistance, and Spaces. With each operational shift, whether due to COVID-19, hazardous winter weather, or the academic calendar, Communications staff were able to quickly gather information and update the Dashboard to provide immediate and accurate information to patrons seeking Library assistance.

Additionally, a collaborative effort across multiple units, the Status Dashboard displays occupancy counters for open Library spaces, allowing patrons to assess a space’s density before visiting, based on their own tolerance for risk. By early spring semester the occupancy counts were automated thanks to cameras equipped with special sensors, and those numbers were supplemented by manual counts to monitor compliance with state and University mask mandates. In a second interface, built for internal access only, Library staff were able to see when mask compliance rates fell below the acceptable threshold, at which point warnings were given, violations were re-counted, and spaces were shut down for a temporary period if compliance rates didn’t improve.

Screenshot of Status Dashboard shows Modified and Not Available statuses for services like Stacks and Study Spaces. The main floor of Brown Library has long tables with clear plastic dividers between seats, which are mostly empty. The few students present are very spread out. Librarians found a number of creative virtual avenues to connect with Library patrons, and conducted more than 2,000 virtual consultations, workshops, and instruction sessions. Additionally, special events included pet therapy — conducted over Zoom with librarians’ personal pets; movie nights — wherein a movie was streamed for the communal enjoyment of attendees, tucked safely in their own homes; and themed Research and Writing Cafés, providing background music, quiet camaraderie, and research assistance through the wonders of Zoom break-out sessions.

In terms of physical spaces, new signage was created for entryways, service points, and public health needs. Additionally, answers to common patron questions were regularly circulated for staff — particularly during times of significant transition such as the online-only January term, or the re-opening phases in summer 2021.

Finally, necessity being the mother of invention, new challenges gave way to new solutions, such as expansion of the “request” function in Virgo to allow for robust contactless pickup, and the brand-new offer for “LEO Mobile” pickup in the Central Grounds Parking Garage.

Jefferson-Madison Regional Library system partnership enables community patron access

An unfortunate consequence of UVA’s highly restrictive visitor policy during the pandemic was the fact that community patrons were no longer able to utilize Library spaces, collections, or in-person services. Seeing the unmet demand during spring 2020, a new partnership with the Charlottesville area’s regional library system was formed in fall 2020 to offer COVID-safe access to UVA’s research collection. Using a robust system for interlibrary loan, visitors to JMRL were able to request materials from UVA Library’s research collection for use during the pandemic. In June 2021, UVA once again began welcoming visitors to Grounds, and the Library was happy to follow suit.

HathiTrust Emergency Temporary Access Services enables critical access

A young man, wearing a facial covering, is bent over small paper items that are supported on black angled stands laying on a table.

Logan Heiman examines a student handbook in the Barrett Reading Room of the Small Special Collections Library for his work with the Slavery and the University of Virginia School of Law
project. Although ETAS restricted some access to circulating physical collections, Special Collections was able to provide access to its unique and rare materials remotely and welcomed researchers back for in-person access by appointment beginning in fall 2020.

The UVA Library became an early partner with HathiTrust’s ETAS program in March 2020, when it became clear that students, faculty, and staff would be unable to access physical collections for some time. The ETAS program is a “controlled digital lending” arrangement that allows UVA users to access digital facsimiles of physical books owned by the University. To comply with United States copyright law, the digital copy becomes the circulation copy, requiring the physical copy to remain uncirculated for the duration of the ETAS arrangement.

The ETAS program has enabled access to millions of items during the COVID-19 pandemic and, critically, it has enabled equitable access to local and distance patrons alike. While the arrangement comes at a cost — researchers and readers certainly miss browsing the physical stacks — the resulting access has by far outweighed the negatives for the duration of the pandemic, when public health and safety measures prohibited in-person browsing.

The HathiTrust ETAS program lasted through the full 2020-2021 fiscal year, finally ending in August 2021 when UVA officially ended its majority-remote operational status. The ETAS program at UVA saw more than 40,000 uses since its advent when the pandemic began.

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