At the Pritzker Legal Research Center (PLRC), we currently maintain a frontline onsite presence of two circulation staff per weekday. Bibliographic staff observe a similar rotating onsite schedule, and librarians provide instruction and reference support remotely. This evolved from a limited onsite circulation schedule that began in mid-June and ran through July, during which one staff member went onsite once per week to facilitate curbside loan pickup and document delivery service. We have operated at our current schedule since early August.
From the perspective of circulation and access, the challenges of resuming operations revolve around the front desk, the space and function of which ground so many workflows and routines. In terms of the desk itself, our present solution is to reduce staffed desk hours and use security gates and a book cart to create a makeshift transaction box (think banks and late-night gas stations). But the bigger challenge has been to adequately simulate workflows like paging and holds, which normally involve automatic notices and direct interaction. To accomplish this, we have had to interpret and manually reproduce automatic notification chains, which has led us into an interesting reversal: whereas before automatic notices led to spontaneous and direct exchange, we now directly intervene in the notification process to facilitate scheduled and contactless exchange.
Circulation thus largely functions via email scheduling and contactless pickup, which works like it sounds: we provide scheduled pickup for patrons who come to campus briefly, and maintain a contactless “hold shelf” inside the library for patrons with recurring onsite access. Looking forward, we recently installed a book vending machine which we will soon use to fully and permanently automate our holds transactions. Once the machine is operational, the reversal noted above will be solved: automatic notices will simply facilitate contactless exchange. To speculate for a moment, we wonder if curbside workflows won’t become the model for physical item delivery.
For now, the place for direct interaction is document delivery, which has become one of our main operations. In addition to providing faculty and general student support, we have expanded the service to include support for students doing journal citation work. This represents a major change in our workflow. In normal times, journal students would request and pick up books, scan the needed pages, and store the books on our reserved journal shelves. We have restructured this process into a more dichotomous sender>receiver flow: students now request the materials they need scanned, and onsite staff pull or request the items and then scan and store them. Staff deliver the scans via shared Box folders, which are monitored and maintained by the journal students and their liaison librarians.
Although we originally created this workflow to mitigate the temporary effects of space restrictions on core operations, it has also led to much collaboration between staff, students, and librarians. In addition to the shared sense of purpose that follows from shared problem-solving, all parties have gained dexterity with our circulation systems, which will expand horizons for future collaborative work. More generally, as the latest pandemic surges continue to make the day-to-day feel minute-to-minute, these configurations have helped us achieve and maintain a semblance of routine, and have thus created for us a (tenuously) reliable operation with which to be focused upon.