A Telecommuting Team: University Libraries Staff Adapt to Online Work Environment

Many Washington University Libraries staff members entered uncharted territory when they began working remotely due to COVID-19. But that hasn’t stopped them from using their expertise and energy to find new ways of supporting the Washington University community during this unprecedented time of online instruction.

Over the past few weeks, University Libraries personnel have learned to make the remote service model work successfully—for themselves and for students, faculty, and scholars near and far. They’re assisting users via chat, email, and video conference, and they’re involved in a wide rang of projects, from creating research guides and gathering metadata for library collections to engaging in remote instruction. Below, staff members describe how they’ve adapted as telecommuters and as virtual stewards of the University Libraries.

Lauren Todd: Subject and Instruction Librarian–Engineering

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, the engineering faculty members and I were able to quickly strategize for University Libraries’ involvement with their online classes. For some classes, I posted an updated announcement with quick-access links to resources. For other classes, I continued as normal, with an understanding that we’re going to be flexible and accommodating to students.

Since I didn’t get to teach two library/information literacy technical writing sections, I worked with the instructors to create a simple self-paced Canvas module of library resources. Students completed the modules, surveys, and discussion boards for attendance points. They all did an amazing job.

I join in the Engineering Communication Center’s weekly Zoom meetings, and it’s so heartening to connect with them and to all work together for our students.

Jason Bengtson: Head of Library Technology Services

The members of Washington University Libraries’ Technology Services unit have been working hard to support our staff and patrons during this crisis. We’ve supplied laptops, network access, and even Internet access to staff members who needed them, so that they can work remotely.

Jason Bengtson’s home office.

We’re also focusing on supporting the many platforms used by the University Libraries. This has been challenging, as we recently finished a migration of nearly every library resource to a new home with WashU IT. So we’ve been supporting staff and platforms while simultaneously fixing the inevitable problems that have been arising from the earlier migrations. We’ve also been helping with the University Libraries’ public facing efforts.

Jim Hone: Film and Media Digital Archivist

In 2019, the University Libraries were awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to digitize, reassemble, and make accessible more than 180 filmed interviews from the second series of Eyes on the Prize, the seminal television documentary program about the civil rights movement created by Washington University alumnus Henry Hampton.

Jim Hone at work in his home studio.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact St. Louis, I was preparing to receive a new batch of interviews from our vendor-partner, Preserve South, based in Atlanta. The equipment needed to complete this undertaking is powerful, calibrated, and expensive. I’m grateful that the administration of the University Libraries allowed me to remove key components of this equipment from my campus digital workstation and integrate them into my home studio. I was able to combine the components with equipment of my own, and I hope to keep our NEH grant on track.

Bill Winston, GIS Analyst

I recently led a workshop on Zoom for the Anthropology 360 course “Placemaking St. Louis.” The workshop focused on using the ESRI StoryMap platform to create a webpage containing text, images, and interactive maps. The course is taught by Andrea Murray.

Bill Winston leads a Zoom workshop with Washington University students.

Five students participated in the Zoom workshop (along with Professor Murray), and I thought it went well. The students followed the material and asked questions, and I got the sense that they were working along with me. The workshop was less interactive than a normal live session. But this type of workshop is probably easier to transition to virtual teaching, since it involves actual webpage development. Storymapping tends to spark the students’ creative interests, and they usually pick it up pretty quickly.

We have a second session coming up that will teach the students how to create an interactive map. I’m teaching the same pair of workshops for another class of Andrea Murray’s: “Caribbean Island Vulnerabilities-Puerto Rico.”

Karen Olson: Music Library Associate

I’ve used the chat function of Canvas to talk with College Writing I classes and suggest databases for their research. I sat in on three chat meetings today and sent out lots of resource guide and database links! Those links will stay in the chat log, so everyone in the class will be able to refer back to them.





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