Week 34 – Closing Down to Open Up

At work this past week in Hekman Library at Calvin University, we prepared for the arrival of students and the start of the school year by closing down much of the public space. With COVID-19 still a high risk, it’s the only way to open up.

By state regulation we’re only allowed so many people per square foot. Seating needs to be a minimum social distancing space of six feet apart. The stairwells and elevators are locked so people without permission (and key or card access) can’t get to anything but the second floor. No browsing for books, only ordering online line and coming in for pickup. Takeout only at the coffee shop (no seating). And most of the chairs, tables, and computer space in the study areas have been closed up. There’s a couple dozen study areas people can reserve and there is display with a count of how many “first come, first serve” spaces are free. Studyspaces have a time limit on them so as many students as possible can get some use of them.

Hekman wrapped-1

Heritage Hall – the archive where I work – is a great place for students looking for a quiet place to study. Our three tables can handle 4-6 people normally. For the next semester at least, it will be only one person to a table, and then only for research using our collections. No access just for studying.

The space does not look inviting at first glance. The limited use policy goes against every ideal that a university library normally follows. But it’s the only way we might make this work.

When I look at these pictures, I see the COVID-19 pandemic and all that it implies. And I see hardworking colleagues being hopeful and working hard to try to make things work.

Hekman wrapped-3

In the archives, you won’t see many obvious signs of COVID-19-required changes in how we use space. One staff person has moved to a different work station, and we changed people’s shifts to stagger them. Both are social distancing measures. We’re by appointment only. So, mostly it’s about less people in the space.

ONe visible sign of change is the “sneeze guard” plexiglass shield you can see on the left, through the entry doors, in the back, in the image below. (It’s framing a picture on the wall.) It’s a small concession to the current reality, along with the “by appointment only, other social distancing practices, and use of sanitizer to keep hands and surfaces as clean as we can.

Hekman wrapped-2

So, “welcome” and “beware.” This is what hope necessarily looks like in a pandemic.

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