Being A First-Generation Student

What is a first-generation student and why does it matter? The Center for First-Generation Student Success provides a few definitions, including a federal definition that “first-generation students come from families where their biological parents did not complete a four-year college degree.” While the definitions vary, the reason the term is important is that it is believed that students who enter college without having a parent or other family member who attended college “implies the possibility that a student may lack the critical cultural capital necessary for college success because their parents did not attend college.”

I am a first-gen college student. My parents had a high-school education. Neither of my brothers went to college, nor did any of my aunts, uncles or cousins. Looking back, I can clearly see that I did lack that “critical cultural capacity” that would have made it easier to be successful in college. I winged the cultural aspects of the college experience a lot. While I did not initially know I was at a disadvantage, I discovered it gradually as my friends and fellow students were suddenly taking advantage of opportunities that I didn’t even know existed –until it was too late for me.

I knew nothing about how college operated. This was also well before the time when most colleges had advisers. In those days, it was expected that you entered as a first-year student and you progressed through to graduation in exactly four years. Options were not impossible but they were also not widely advertised or encouraged. I signed up for classes that interested me, within the confines of my major requirements, and I worked hard, studied hard, and had some amazing learning opportunities, in and outside of the classroom.

But no one realized or thought about what I might not understand. No one realized, for instance, that I didn’t know anything about study-abroad programs and only learned about them when I noticed that some friends from my language classes were not there with me during my junior year because they were in Costa Rica, Moscow, or Frankfurt. No one knew, for instance, that I had never heard of graduate school and didn’t apply because I only found out about that mysterious next step as friends of mine suddenly announced in their last semester that they had been accepted into a graduate program at Cornell or Harvard or MIT. I was a scholarship student who also worked two to three jobs a semester to pay for the next semester’s tuition so I also didn’t have the time to hang out much in the student union or in clubs and learn about these things in informal conversations. I was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in my senior year without ever having heard about it before and without much of an idea of what it meant.

Looking back, I am nothing but grateful for the opportunities I had in college. Going to college was a dream that I had without any clear idea of what I wanted to become. I only knew that I was passionate about studying foreign languages and history. I only knew that I never wanted to stop learning. Going to college was essential for me to learn what I was capable of and it enabled me to start to carve my own special place in the world that was different from anything anyone else in my family had done.

As I have moved along in my professional career, I have never lost sight of my experience as a first-gen student at Grinnell College. My experience has motivated me to mentor others and to strive to make sure that the services we offer in the FAU Libraries are inclusive and supportive of people from all backgrounds. Many times as a first-gen student, I didn’t understand what was going on around me but I kept quiet and learned to absorb things without openly asking about them. Because of that experience, I want to make sure that the FAU Libraries can be navigated by anyone without them first having to understand how we do things. I want the FAU Libraries to be welcoming and friendly and for us to be able to meet students’ needs, no matter their starting point. I want our students to feel comfortable asking for help and finding that help in lots of different ways.

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FAU’s Office of First-Generation Student Success “serves as a referral hub to the various services that exist to inspire and assist first-generation students at Florida Atlantic University, including academic support, advising, financial assistance and scholarships, mentorship, and the “First and Proud” registered student organization.” The Libraries work together with this office on a variety of initiatives throughout the year.

The Council for Opportunity in Education is promoting First-Generation Celebration Day on November 8, 2020, by encouraging “colleges and universities to celebrate the success of first-generation college students, faculty, and staff on your campus in any and every way possible.” This year, in honor of the national First-Generation Celebration Day, the FAU Libraries are celebrating the faculty and staff of the Libraries who were first-generation college students. We are asking them to contribute a picture from their college graduation and to state, in one sentence, why going to college was important for them. Stay tuned for these pictures (my college graduation picture is above) and brief stories to be shared. We hope that our personal stories will encourage today’s first-generation students to persevere and to know that there are many of us here who are dedicated to helping them be successful in their academic careers at FAU.

Reopening the FAU Libraries to Students and Faculty

Dear FAU Community,

After months of planning, reviewing safety guidelines produced by the CDC and the University,  and discussion with colleagues across the state and the nation to determine best practices, the FAU Libraries are preparing to reopen our facilities to FAU and Palm Beach State College students and faculty. Opening day for those patrons is tentatively scheduled for August 20, 2020.

We have been operating almost entirely remotely since the middle of March, providing a wide array of services virtually and a few in-person services by appointment. Many of these virtual and concierge style services outlined in our Lib2Go guide will continue, even after we reopen the buildings. All FAU students are able now to access all remote services, no matter which campus they call home.

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Due to health and safety guidelines and the deep and frequent cleaning of the public spaces inside the library buildings, the Libraries will not initially be able to serve as the collaborative gathering and active study place that we have worked so hard to make them into. This is a great disappointment to us and we look forward to getting back to the way things were as soon as possible.

The following is a summary of what the initial opening of the library buildings will look like:

  • Owl or Panther cards will be required for entry to FAU controlled library facilities; the general public will not be allowed in except by special appointment.
  • Hours in Boca Raton’s library will be Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and hours in Jupiter’s library will be Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Only the first floor of the libraries in Boca Raton and Jupiter will be open to visitors.
  • Since only the first floor will be open, the elevators and stairwells will not be available to visitors.
  • The HBOI library will be open to the HBOI community by card swipe access.
  • The use of face coverings of the nose and mouth will be required for entry, for service, and for the duration of time visitors spend in the buildings.
  • Because face coverings are required at all times, no food and drink will be allowed inside the facilities.
  • Dunkin Donuts in the Boca Raton library is closed until further notice.
  • Occupancy in Boca Raton and Jupiter will be limited strictly to allow safe social distancing. Numbers of occupants will be controlled through entry gates and specialized camera systems and software. When maximum safe occupancy is reached, visitors will be directed to other locations for study and access to computers.
  • Students are encouraged to limit their time in the library buildings so that other students will be able to come in and use the facilities. If demand consistently exceeds availability, it may be necessary to institute an appointment system for using the library.
  • All couches and communal seating have been removed to promote safe social distancing.
  • Many computer workstations have been disabled in order to ensure safe social distancing.
  • Fixed computer workstations in the libraries will reboot after two hours of use. Students should be prepared to save their work to the cloud or to a thumb drive. Signage in the computer labs, along with early warnings on the computer screen, will alert students to this. Students will be able to log back in more than once.
  • Many chairs and tables have been removed to ensure safe social distancing.
  • No access to the book stacks will be possible; books will need to be requested using an online form and will be delivered through low-contact or contactless delivery mechanisms.
  • No physical course reserves will be available.
  • Group study rooms will not be available for checkout.
  • Library faculty and staff will be available for phone, email, and virtual consultation but may not be present at the service desks, unless needed.
  • Instruction sessions will be available virtually, by appointment.
  • Visitors will need to use the available cleaning supplies to wipe down their seats and work areas before and after their use.
  • Printers and photocopiers will need to be wiped down by visitors before and after use.
  • Students in Davie should consult with Broward College’s University/College Library on in-person library services and hours. Students in Fort Lauderdale should consult with the Broward County Public Library for hours of operation and in-person services.
  • Members of the general public are encouraged to visit their public libraries for library services until such time as we are able to reopen our spaces for broader use.

As soon as it is safe and as soon as there is adequate staffing for keeping all areas clean and sanitized, we will try to open up more space and expand hours of operation. Bookmark our What to Expect: Fall 2020 website for the most current information.

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We appreciate your patience and compliance with the University’s health and safety guidelines. We are here for our FAU and PBSC communities and look forward to continuing to serve you with energy, commitment, and creativity when the new semester starts.

 

Reimagining the Libraries Post COVID19

Since March 19, the FAU Libraries have been operating remotely, with the vast majority of services being provided virtually through email, phone, chat, video tutorials, online instruction, and virtual office hours, with the extensive suite of remote services being highlighted in our Lib2Go guide https://library.fau.edu/lib2go.

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Checkout of laptops and other equipment for students in need has been handled through in-person delivery by appointment at library facilities. In spite of the fact that the vast majority of our partner libraries from whom we borrow materials have also been closed and are not lending physical items, interlibrary loan (ILL) services have continued unabated, with thousands of electronic articles being provided to FAU patrons in the past few months.

ILL staff have also been providing curbside delivery of items from our Boca library’s physical collections to FAU faculty throughout the entire COVID19 closure three times a week by appointment. Curbside delivery of materials from the Boca library’s physical collections was just recently expanded to be available to students as well as faculty. It was very well received and heavily used by students in the first week. If staffing and delivery options between campuses permit, we hope to be able to expand the service beyond the Boca campus library.

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Curbside delivery for faculty and students in Boca

We have been able to continue serving the FAU community and facilitate their teaching, research and study by a creative redesign of services, underscored by our fundamental dedication to the success of our students and faculty. Even when we return fully to our physical facilities, we anticipate that many of these virtual services will continue, as they enable us to reach all users more effectively and provide more on-demand services.

The Deans and Directors of the libraries of the Florida State University System (Council of State University Libraries – CSUL) developed and approved on May 19 a set of  Guiding Principles and Assumptions about Reopening Physical Library Facilities post COVID19 Closure    While we all have different facilities, different university missions, and different student bodies, we have all been working in the past few years to develop library spaces that support both quiet, individual research and study as well as active, collaborative spaces. Large sections of today’s academic libraries have been intentionally designed as intensive, interactive learning spaces, where flexible design enables students to redesign spaces on the fly.

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The fifth floor of the Wimberly Library designed for flexibility and high-intensity use

High usage of our facilities has been a point of pride. The fact that many students enter the libraries and spend hours at a time working and studying — alone in quiet zones or  together in collaborative spaces – has warmed our hearts. I have written about those very aspects in this blog space numerous times.

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The fourth floor of the Wimberly Library – the quiet zone

Now, the very design features that enabled high-intensity, flexible, lengthy usage of our spaces are precisely those that will create the greatest challenges as we plan for bringing people back into our libraries before the pandemic is completely over. Many of us are feeling heartbroken at needing to exercise tight control over our spaces, at having to limit the number of people who can safely be in our spaces, at having to reduce flexibility in the way the facilities are used. This professional heartbreak is being played out in public libraries as well, as a recent New York Times article entitled Libraries Strive to Stay “Community Living Rooms” as They Reopen documents.

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Students enjoying the new Diversity Burrow in the Wimberly Library

We have an entire section of our website that documents how we have “reimagined” the Wimberly Library on the Boca campus in recent years. As I was looking at this page the other day, I realized that we needed to reimagine our services for our new reality so that we can continue to meet the needs of our users while we have to (temporarily, we hope) enact restrictions for our physical facilities.

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Dean Hixson trying out one of the seating options at the Jupiter Campus Library

The FAU Libraries have submitted a plan for reopening our physical facilities that is under review by the FAU University Administration to ensure that it meets health and safety guidelines and is in alignment with the University’s own plan for reopening in the fall, The University’s draft plan was just presented to the FAU Board of Trustees on June 12 and will be presented to the Board of Governors (BOG) in Tallahassee on June 23. Each university within the State University System of Florida has prepared its plan in accordance with the BOG’s Blueprint for Reopening Campuses.

As we get feedback on our plan for reopening the FAU Libraries’ physical facilities, we will share information widely with our students, faculty, and staff, as well as with the local community. We will need your input, your support, and your patience as we move forward.

Interlibrary Loan and Curbside Delivery

In March 2020, libraries all across the world unexpectedly shut down in response to the COVID19 pandemic.  But the research needs of our patrons didn’t stop. The FAU Libraries have been working almost entirely remotely since March 19, 2020, striving to provide services to our students and faculty non-stop, through online guides, virtual office hours, access to electronic content, online tutorials, and some focused in-person services, such as checking out laptops or wifi hotspots to students in need.  Many of these services are outlined in our Lib2 Guide.

When libraries around the world shut down due to the pandemic, the network that has been built up over decades to share books and other materials between libraries on behalf of their patrons also shut down. Under pre-COVID19 conditions, the FAU Libraries Interlibrary Loan (ILL) Department took pride in going the extra mile to obtain materials from all over the world for FAU’s faculty and students, including from all seven continents. It’s a testament to just how good our ILL staff are that we have had to explain to some faculty why we could no longer get that book they wanted from a library in Spain! While our staff are amazing, they haven’t yet figured out how to get books from closed libraries on the other side of the world.

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ILL staff member retrieving a book from the stacks for curbside delivery

Our ILL staff developed innovative programming to increase awareness and use of ILL among FAU’s graduate and undergraduate students, as well as faculty.

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ILL staff and Dean Hixson pre-COVID19 promoting interlibrary loan to FAU students

We also took pride in being able to lend out materials to other libraries around the world, being a “net lender” and contributing to one of the most effective worldwide collaborative ventures in the history of libraries.

With the pandemic shutting down libraries worldwide, the ILL community quickly organized across different social platforms to continue providing research materials to our patrons. FAU’s ILL staff have been part of making sure that people continued to have access to the scholarly content they need, in spite of libraries of all types being closed.

Since mid-March, they have filled hundreds of digital chapter and article requests for the FAU community, scanned scores of articles and book chapters located in our stacks for faculty, and have also provided digital materials to partner libraries and local, state, and Federal agencies (including the FDA).

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ILL staff scanning an article to create a digital copy to lend

With most of the world’s libraries closed, it has been challenging to find libraries who can fill some of our digital borrowing requests, but they have. The staff liken themselves to ILL Commandoes, doing what needs to be done to get what our patrons need.

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ILL staff practicing safe social distancing

While we have excellent collections of e-books, e-journals, and databases, we recognize that not everything is available electronically. For this reason, we have also provided curbside pickup  of books located in our stacks in the Boca library to faculty who fill out an online request using ILLiad.

69922111_10159058675863128_4613960220790489088_o Patrons search the catalog on the home page, find titles they want, request them using ILLiad, our ILL staff find the books in the stacks, check them out remotely to the requester, and then make appointments to deliver them to patrons three times a week.

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The FAU Libraries curbside delivery of books from the Boca campus library.

This service is now being expanded to FAU’s undergraduate and graduate students. Requests can be made by following the instructions on this page. For now, this service is only available in Boca and only draws on the books in the Boca campus library.

The ILL Commandoes stand ready to help anyone who needs help! Email them at lyill@fau.edu

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Pre-COVID19 introduction to ILL services in the lobby of the Boca campus library

 

Standing Up for Racial Justice and Inclusion for All

 

I have written in this forum before  about how one of the core values of the FAU Libraries, and in fact all libraries. is to support diversity and inclusion for all. It is one of seven strategic goals  for the FAU Libraries, reaffirmed in November 2019, where we pledged to “Enhance the libraries’ leadership role in promoting diversity and inclusion for the Libraries’ patrons and staff.”

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Progressive Black Men’s Poetry and Pajamas evett in the library October 9, 2019

As nice as those words are, and as much as we have worked sincerely to promote tolerance, awareness, and inclusion through our library programs and services, it is not enough. The death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests and reaction to those protests have made it clear that much more is needed.

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It is time for a call to action, as we heard this week from the Board of Governors (BOG) of the State University System of Florida. In an open letter to all faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the State University System, the BOG  stated that “It is time for everyone to examine the inequities in our society, recognize the conditions that have created those inequities, and work to repair the racial divide and restore equal justice for all Americans.”  In this same letter, they went on to say, “As a powerful and influential voice in Florida, it is time for the State University System, including students, faculty, staff, and alumni, to actively engage in finding solutions to peacefully eliminate racism and discrimination.  This will be a critical mission of our twelve state universities, as it is our duty as societal leaders to help end prejudice and to promote social justice for all.”

On May 31, FAU’s President John Kelly sent a message to all members of the FAU community where he said:

“Diversity and inclusion are part of Florida Atlantic University’s DNA. We all should be proud that FAU is one of the most culturally diverse universities in the country.

For this reason, among many others, it can be difficult to make sense of violence on the streets of America’s cities that is fueled by racism, ignorance and hate. Needless killings, like that of George Floyd in Minneapolis, can be particularly hard to fathom.

FAU condemns all acts of violence. It is vital we come together in the face of ignorance and hate peacefully. As a center of higher learning, FAU is a place of dialogue and thought, and where ideas are nurtured.

As we continue to deal with the effects of COVID-19, we must not lose focus of what is right and just, but we must do so in a respectful and considerate way. We all must consider our actions in our daily lives and how these actions, no matter the intentions, may affect those around us.”

The past few months have been so hard for us and everyone else in the country, and the world.  I thought that my heart was broken with the loss that we have all been experiencing. It turns out, I didn’t really know what it means to have a broken heart.

I didn’t know how much more of my heart remained to be broken until the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 and the subsequent protests, riots, and ongoing expressions of hatred and violence cropping up throughout the country, from all levels of society.

Because we need to mend many broken hearts and because we have been enjoined to do this by the Board of Governors and FAU’s President John Kelly,  I pledge to do my personal best in these efforts. and to encourage everyone in the FAU Libraries to do better and to be better. The only way I can go on is to fight with every ounce of my being for fairness, equity, inclusion, justice. And simple kindness. As  President Kelly said, Diversity and inclusion are in FAU’s DNA. It is a point of pride for us. But we must do more to ensure that all students and faculty are able to enjoy the benefits of being a member of the FAU community. We have much more work to do.

I leave you with the following statement from a prominent social scientist who sought to explain why “Black Lives Matter. ” It may help to explain the anger and frustration exploding around us for those of us who have never lived with it on a daily basis.

“But then, if it’s the case that we can care about citizens and the police, shouldn’t the rallying cry just be All Lives Matter? No. because the humanity wasn’t stripped from all lives the way it was stripped from the lives of black citizens. In order for slavery to work, in order for us to buy, sell, beat and trade people like animals, Americans had to completely dehumanize slaves. And whether we directly participated in that or were simply a member of a culture that at one time normalized that behavior, it shaped us. We can’t undo that level of dehumanizing in one or two generations. I believe Black Lives Matter is a movement to rehumanize black citizens in the hearts of those who have consciously or unconsciously bought into the insidious, rampant, and ongoing devaluation of black lives. All lives matter, but not all lives need to be pulled back into moral inclusion. Not all people were subjected to the psychological process of demonizing and being made less than human so we could justify the inhumane practice of slavery.”  Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness, Random House, 2017, p. 59

 

Be well and safe, everyone.

When Do We Go Back to Normal?

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All of us who have been living through the COVID19 pandemic are anxious to get “back to normal.” The FAU library faculty, staff, and I have been working remotely since March 19, 2020. We are finding new ways to connect with FAU’s students and faculty –and with each other. We have discovered new founts of creativity and have become a strong support network for each other and for the people we serve.

We’ve done videos, such as this week’s video to wish our students success during finals 

We’ve run contests and virtual events to engage with our students.

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We’ve developed resources for our community to help them cope, such as our our Home Schooling Guide or our COVID19 guide, complete with a page just focused on making your own face mask.

As creative as we have been and as we will continue to be, we miss you as much as you miss coming to the Libraries! You are our lifeblood, our soul, our reason for being!

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This week I held my first virtual “meet and greet” with students and faculty so I could hear what their issues and concerns are and just talk about what we’re all going through. We connected using WebEx and had some great conversation. Two questions were on everyone’s mind: when will the University and the libraries reopen? And, when we do reopen, how will we keep everyone safe?

As we ponder reopening the University and the Libraries, we are all guided first and foremost by concern for the safety of our students, faculty, and staff. The Libraries have developed a COVID19 guide that links to state, CDC, and other authoritative sources to help everyone stay well informed. The University is guided by federal guidelines, as well as directives from the State Board of Governors and local authorities. In mid April, Florida’s Governor appointed the Chair of the State Board of Governors to the Re-Open Florida Task Force,  Syd Kitson, to the Executive Committee of the Re-Open Florida Task Force.

As we plan for an eventual reopening after face-to-face classes resume, we have to be flexible on what normal means.  And we also have to be careful not to let our desire for normalcy lead us to come back too soon, without precautions,  and put everyone at risk.

The University of Florida, located in one of the Florida counties with a very low number of cases of the virus, has nevertheless laid out a very cautious approach to reopening. We who are located in south Florida, which has much higher numbers of infection, will have to be even more cautious moving forward.

A recent article  reporting on research conducted at FAU and elsewhere urges caution, noting that the standard six feet for social distancing may not be enough. “Engineers at Florida Atlantic University imitated a cough in a lab for research. In that test, scientists used a laser to measure how far droplets traveled. In 41 seconds, the vapor from the “heavy cough” reached 9 feet. Other tests that were conducted reached as far as 12 feet. Dr. Sid Verma suggested that if someone sees another person cough in public, to avoid the area for several minutes. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the droplets from the coughs can travel up to 23 to 27 feet.”

So, what does this mean in practical terms? FAU has convened an Emergency Operations Team with broad participation across the University and relying heavily on experts from the College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, and other public health experts to lay out what a return to normal might look like and determine how and when it will be safe. The Colleges, the Libraries, the Student Union, and others are planning for what changes need to be made in the short, medium, and long-term for reopening.

The FAU Libraries face some unique challenges in a post-COVID world. Our facilities were designed for maximum, high-intensity use. From September 2019  to February 2020, we had more than 480,000 visits to the Wimberly Library in Boca. If we come back in phases,  where we restrict access to a space to no more than ten people at a time in the very first phase,  what do we do to implement that? We have always taken immense pride in how busy we are. But in the short term, we may have to implement measures that restrict the number of people who can be in our spaces at any given time.

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“Normal” will be different in the short term and into the fall semester and we will need everyone’s help as we reopen gradually to make sure that everyone is safe.

We want to make sure you understand how eager we are to get back to the “normal.” But we also want your help in the first few months. We will need your support, your patience, and your focus on the long-term so that when we come back everyone is safe. The good news is that we have learned a lot about helping people who are not right in front of us. I do believe that, with your help, we will be better and stronger than we were before.

Go Owls!

 

Popular Perceptions of Libraries and COVID19

When I was an undergraduate, I once took a course called “Reality and Illusion” that focused on different perceptions of reality seen through the lens of Spanish literature. In more than thirty years as a librarian, I have experienced a major disconnect between the reality of library usage and the illusion that so many have of what libraries are and how they are used.

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There is a stereotype of libraries that all librarians have dealt with throughout their careers and that fails to take into account the massive changes that have occurred and continue to occur in libraries.

According to the movie and television industry, the popular and mainstream press, the advertising industry, and social media, libraries are places visited by few people and where there are bun-wearing, spinster women walking around telling the few people who venture inside the library to be quiet.  Those of you old enough to have watched the film classic It’s A Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, may remember the fate that befell Mary, the wife of George Bailey: when his wish was granted that he never existed, Mary became a frightened, timid librarian (complete with hair pulled back in a bun). Clearly, this was a fate to be avoided at all costs – even in 1946 America. There are countless other examples of this popular misconception that can be found everywhere today.  Even in academia, there are those who believe (and say to me with some regularity) that we don’t need the library anymore because “everything is online.”  These incorrect perceptions seem to be perpetuated and validated by people who have not been inside a public or academic library in a very long time, if at all.

The reality (pre-COVID19) is very different at most academic and public libraries in the United States. Libraries have become the hubs of their communities, bustling with activity and engagement. And while we still preserve some quiet zones for the focused scholar, researcher or individual seeking a place for quiet reading and reflection, our libraries as a whole are anything but quiet. At FAU, the main library on the campus at Boca Raton, the Wimberly Library, is a 164,000 square foot building that last year received more than 950,000 visits.

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At class changing times, we have long lines of students trying to come in and get out of the building, as this picture shared last fall by one of our students on the Libraries’ Twitter account illustrates.

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In the six months before we closed our facilities in response to COVID 19, we had over 482,000 visits (for a student body of 30,000). Many of the people who come in to the building stay for hours, using one of our computer labs or open spaces, studying and hanging out with their friends and fellow students for hours between classes.

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Our newly redesigned spaces, where students can reconfigure the space to meet their immediate needs, show how today’s students have been accustomed to working. They do everything together. And they do it in close proximity to their peers.

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They find ways to be close to one another and work together even in spaces that were not designed for that purpose.

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Students creating their own group-study space on the floor in another part of Wimberly

Since March 19, 2020 the faculty and staff of the FAU Libraries have been working remotely and perfecting new ways of serving FAU’s students, faculty, and community almost entirely without face-to-face interaction. I have described some of that effort in a previous posting entitled Library Redux.  While some of what we have learned to do effectively in this world of safe social distancing will carry over and enable us to improve our services once we are back, we miss our community and we are all looking forward to the day when we will be able to reopen our doors and interact with our community face-to-face.

But this reopening must be done safely.

The popular stereotype of libraries as empty, quiet zones could now threaten the safety of our public and our staff as we look to reopen. In a recent report produced by researchers from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security entitled Public Health Principles for a Phased Reopening During COVID-19: Guidance for Governors, the authors provide recommendations on when it is safe to reopen different types of spaces. On p. 8 of the report, the authors discuss the need for risk assessment, noting: “Risk assessments should be integrated into the decisions around reopening. Risk assessments are formalized processes to evaluate risks and hazards. Assessing the risks of easing social distancing measures and restarting parts of the economy requires a measurement of the likelihood of increased transmission and the consequences of that transmission. Likelihood in this case means the probability that reopening a business, school, or other organization where people congregate will cause significantly increased transmission. Consequence is the impact that increased transmission could have on individuals or communities if a business, school, or other organization reopens or eases social distancing measures.”

(The authors of the above-referenced report have just changed their recommendation after hearing from so many librarians about the false assumptions on which they initially based their recommendation. More on this later.)

The authors of this report provide charts throughout to summarize for governors and their staffs what risk there is for reopening different types of facilities and operations. While on p. 14 they provide a chart that characterizes institutions of higher education as high risk: High for Contact Intensity, High for Number of Contacts, and High for Modification Potential, the very next page provides a chart characterizing libraries (as a community gathering space) as low risk: Low for Contact Intensity, Low for Number of Contacts, and Medium for Modification Potential. The one caveat they offer in their two-sentence explanation of this particular chart is that “The risk in these spaces is highly dependent on the size of the population they serve and the size of the space.” They then cite the CDC and a document from the Baltimore County Public Library for possible mitigation resources. In this section, the authors do not explain or justify their characterization of libraries as low risk. I can only wonder if this characterization is based at all on the popular – and erroneous – illusion that libraries are quiet places inhabited primarily by librarians who spend their time shushing the few patrons who venture inside.

(The authors of the above-referenced report have just changed their recommendation after hearing from so many librarians about the false assumptions on which they initially based their recommendation. More on this later.)

While there is much that is useful in this guide produced by Johns Hopkins, I am hoping that government officials will look beyond popular perceptions and will instead look to the people who work in or manage different types of spaces in order to uncover the reality of the use of these spaces for their community and the associated risks for reopening.

We are looking forward to seeing you all again and getting back to normal, when we can do so safely. Let’s hope that is soon.

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Library Redux

With the Florida Board of Governors’ decision in mid March to move all instruction in the State University System online for the spring semester, the FAU Libraries have been operating almost entirely remotely since March 19. We are providing limited in-person services to check out laptops and other computer equipment to students in need and to provide curbside pickup of items from our print collection in the main library in Boca Raton for faculty.

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Working remotely means that each of our homes is doubling as our office. For some of us who live alone, that has meant taking over a table or a room and resigning ourselves to having contact with other people only through the phone or the computer. For others of us with children, it has meant sharing our new office spaces with our children’s new home schooling space or with their play space. Like the rest of the world, dealing with the pandemic has meant a complete readjustment in how we live our lives and carry out our work.

Working remotely has not lessened our commitment to or connection with the students and faculty of FAU and our local community. In the past few weeks, library faculty and staff have interacted with hundreds of students and faculty over email, by phone, via chat, text, or online meeting formats to assist them with their research, their instruction, or their questions about their future.  For example, during the first two weeks of working remotely, staff of the Interlibrary Loan department set up numerous new accounts for students and faculty, processed over 230 borrowing requests, lent over 940 digital articles or book chapters, scanned over 70 items from our physical collections for other SUS Libraries, hospitals, and federal and state agencies, and provided curbside delivery of dozens of items from our print book collection. 

In the first two weeks of working remotely, our newly created LibGuide on Home Schooling was viewed almost 1100 times. Our newly created LibGuide on COVID-19 Resources has also been exceptionally popular. Our dozens of video tutorials continue to be very popular and our Lib2Go page has guided hundreds of our students and faculty to the wide array of resources and services we have available to them. This week, we will be adding virtual office hours to make it possible for our students and faculty to connect online with a live person and have a video chat.

Showing our commitment to the broader University mission and our support for our students, twenty-seven library faculty and staff are volunteering five or more hours a week to take part in the University’s initiative to reach out by phone to most of our current students. Through these conversations, we let our students know that FAU cares and callers are trained to direct students to whatever assistance they need for tutoring, finances, advising, or just coping with the human effects of the pandemic.

The new environment has sparked our creativity and caused us to find new ways to engage with our students and our community. We have held bingo games on social media for students based on library services. For Poetry Month, we are hosting a Spoken Word video contest for students. While we might have started these efforts to address the physical isolation we are all experiencing, some of our efforts will likely continue even after we are back in our physical spaces and having face-to-face interactions once again. A prime example of this change is coming from the Jaffe Center for Book Arts. Accustomed to offering hands-on workshops for students and the community, the Jaffe has branched out into live video streaming events that are also recorded on their site for viewing at a later time. They have just completed episode 2 of Book Arts 101, featuring the Director of the Jaffe Center, John Cutrone, talking about book arts and showing some prime examples. The community response to the first two episodes has made it clear that this is a format that works and that will enable the Jaffe Center to reach a broader group of people who want to learn about the amazing, quirky world of book arts.

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While the stay-at-home directives and the temporary closure of the libraries have kept us from enjoying our physical spaces and seeing each other face-to-face, the technology continues to make it possible for us to find new ways to work and play together. The Rubin and Cindy Gruber Sandbox, which was due to open on March 30, is currently sitting vacant, waiting for students to start their journey into the world of artificial intelligence. But, not to be controlled by our current reality, the co-directors of the Gruber Sandbox are developing a virtual version of the Gruber Sandbox to enable our students to enter the space and begin to explore some of its capabilities virtually.  Still in the early development stages, this virtual reality version of the Gruber Sandbox will likely continue even after we are able to enter the physical space.

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The greatest irony for me in this time of physical isolation is how close it has brought us in other ways. The faculty and staff of the FAU Libraries are stretching their understanding of connection and service and are demonstrating every day that we are always here for our community.

Be well, stay home, stay safe until we can meet in person once again. In the meantime, visit our website, our social media pages, and reach out to us to discover all the ways that we can help enrich your research, study, and personal growth.

We Are Still Here for You

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As of 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18, all FAU libraries (in Boca Raton, Jupiter, and HBOI) will be closing to the public at least until March 30. In light of the latest decision (March 17) by the Board of Governors of the State University System of Florida that “remote instruction will continue through the end of the Spring semester at each state university and students who can return home should return home” and that “Traditional on-campus commencement ceremonies will not be held in May,” the decision to close the libraries is simply prudent. Like the state authorities and the Board of Governors, our top priority is everyone’s safety: the safety of students, staff, faculty, and the community in which we live.

But I also wanted you all to know that we are still here for you. All of our staff will be working remotely and will be available over email and phone to help you. A good starting point is our Lib2Go guide that pulls together in one place all the services and resources that are available to our students, faculty, and staff without having to come into the building. If you want to know how to contact a particular department, check out our departmental listing. If you want to find a particular person, check out our Staff Directory. If you reach out to me directly I will answer you and put you in touch with just the right person who can help.

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If you want one place to keep up on the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University, or more, we have created a one-stop shop for you.

These are unprecedented times for all of us. Together, we can get through it. And, more than just get through it, perhaps we can even learn from the experience, grow personally and professionally, and become better at what we do.

 

Staying Safe

DSC_0161Dear FAU Community,

With the Board of Governors’ decision to require the State University System to transition to remote instruction to safeguard students in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, the FAU Libraries are continuing to work with the University to take the necessary steps to protect and safeguard our community.  The safety and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and community members is our number one priority.

During this time, we encourage users to utilize the many remote library services available.  To make this easier for our users, we launched Lib2GO, an online listing of remote resources and services available.  We also created a resource guide to connect students, faculty and staff with resources to understand COVID-19 better.

To assist our faculty during this time of transition to remote instruction, we are repurposing several of our study rooms in the Wimberly Library to facilitate online instruction.  These areas will be made available to faculty members and equipped with computers to record and live stream lectures for instruction.  Faculty members that require assistance in the recording spaces will be able to work with library staff.

We have postponed or cancelled several workshops and events in alignment with the University.  The Wimberly Library and Jupiter Library will be operating on a reduced schedule through March 30. Please make sure to check our website for those hours of operation.  During operating hours, our faculty and staff will continue to be available to assist the FAU community.  However, we ask for your patience, as some services might be impacted.

Over the week of March 9, we have cleaned the computers and study areas in our libraries.  We have also made extra hand sanitizer and wipes available in these locations.  This extra level of cleaning is provided by library staff, in addition to the normal cleaning that the University provides through its cleaning contractor.

We encourage you to continue to follow the guidance and information provided by the University. Most importantly, we highly encourage users to adhere to the guidance of frequent handwashing, especially when visiting the library and using public resources like computer workstations.

We hope that by sharing information with you as the situation evolves, we can help our students and faculty navigate through this time and continue to be successful.  Please continue to follow our social media channels and check our website as updates will continue to be posted.

Wishing you all health, safety, and continued success,

Carol Hixson, Dean of University Libraries