There was no precise reopening date for the Illinois Supreme Court Library because we never fully shut down. Our Springfield branch maintained daily operations, including serving the public by appointment, from the start of the pandemic. Here in Chicago, where we serve three Supreme Court justices and the judges of the First District Appellate Court, I have gone into the office at least once a week since mid-March. Each judge made their own decision about how to work, so I still communicate with some judges and clerks in person when they are in the building, others only via email.
In the early days of the pandemic, I arrived in the library once a week with a list of scanning requests from my clerks and other law librarians. Later, I would attempt to tame the mountain of new mail so that my Library Assistant would be able to find her desk when she returned to work. During this time, she worked on special projects and professional development from home. She returned to the office in May and currently we alternate staffing days in the library. The physical space of our library is open to Court staff regardless of our presence, and I created clear signage directing patrons how to contact me at home if the library is unstaffed.
I find that communication and a willingness to take on tasks outside of my normal job responsibilities are the keys to maintaining our operations and services to both the Court and the public.
Communication with a staff of two is not difficult. My Library Assistant and I have a weekly phone call to discuss work projects and catch up. I also collaborate with our Springfield staff to a higher degree in addressing reference requests. Though we are increasing our online offerings, we still rely heavily on print; therefore collaboration with whomever is staffing the library is necessary.
Additionally, I find it important to engage in job sharing. I frequently process new items or shelve books on my in-office days, and I’ve given my Library Assistant new training so that she is able to fulfill citation requests and legislative history research when she is in the office.
Beyond the day-to-day, we still have opportunities for new projects. We had hoped to work on outreach to our downstate judges this year before travel became impossible. However, teaming up with the Judicial College to offer webinars about remote services has brought in new library users from across the state.
In early March, I offered internships to two students. We have never hosted interns before, but it felt like an achievable and beneficial project at the time. Ultimately, though I had to delay the start dates, I decided to proceed with the students because I felt I could safely and effectively have them come in to learn and work. Because most of my patrons have moved to contacting me via phone or email, we were able to spread out in the open spaces of the library for one-on-one training and discussion.
Despite the obvious challenges, I’m grateful that the past year has given our library opportunities to think differently about our use of technology, our training programs, and ways of doing outreach.