Continuing to Adapt to a Changing New Normal
-Interim Dean Justin Otto
Many people talk about the past year as adapting to “the new normal,” but in EWU Libraries we’ve found the new normal to be a constantly evolving state. March 19, 2021 marked the one-year anniversary of when the JFK Library ceased in-person operations due to the pandemic. That was the day the library as we knew it stopped. Since then, we’ve been evolving into an organization that embraces change and adapts quickly to do as much as it can – while following safety guidelines – to serve EWU students wherever they may be.
In April 2020 we restarted laptop check-outs to students who really needed them to participate in online classes. The building was closed to the public at the time, so computers were placed on a table at JFK’s back door for students to pick up. In June, we began checking out books again by taking requests from students and leaving the books in the library’s front vestibule for students to retrieve – similar to the “curbside checkout” many public libraries are doing. In September, the library once again opened its doors to students with limited in-person services and an emphasis on safety. Students can come into the JFK lobby to pick up books, laptops and other equipment, use scanners and printers, and get a cup of coffee from Thomas Hammer.
While many of our students are not in Cheney for the 2020-2021 school year, it became apparent during the Fall Quarter that those who were nearby needed more study space with good wireless internet to participate in online classes. In response, the library created a safe study area adjacent to the JFK lobby with appropriately-distanced tables and sanitizing equipment so students could study safely. The Study Hall @ JFK, as we call it, went live in November 2020 and has been used steadily by students ever since.
Also in Fall Quarter, the Libraries began mailing books from our collection to students living outside Spokane County. Many high-quality scholarly materials are available only in physical format and providing mailing services to students living outside Spokane County was one way to ensure equity of access for all students during the pandemic. Students living in Spokane County can pick up physical items at the Spokane Academic Library (SAL) on the Spokane campus or at the JFK Library in Cheney.
The library’s laptop checkout program, which has always been popular, has become very important during the pandemic to a number of students who either don’t own computers or need more robust computing power for classes. To make laptop checkout more convenient for these students, the library has extended the laptop checkout period to one-month so students don’t have to come to JFK as often. In February 2021 the library also introduced a self-serve laptop checkout kiosk so students can get a Chromebook at their convenience to use in the Study Hall. In addition to laptops, the library now offers mobile Wi-Fi hotspots for checkout, which students can use for better internet at home.
Throughout all of this, the library never stopped providing a broad array of online research resources, like databases and ebooks, that our students can access wherever they are. We’ve emphasized online services, like streaming video, that are enhancing the curricular experience in online classes. We have also developed our own video tutorials for students on effective use of the library. Whether students are starting research or simply need a library tune-up, they can explore these new audio & closed-caption enabled video tutorials featured on our website. These concise videos are the go-to source for students to learn more about our resources and how to expand their research skills.
The library’s ability to continue to adapt and respond in real-time to the evolving needs of our students is greatly aided by the generosity of our donors. For the better part of a year, the library plans how we will employ our primary collection budget, but the financial resources available through the EWU Libraries Collection Endowment Fund provide us with the flexibility to react quickly to evolving student needs, as we’ve been doing this past year.