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VIVA: Member Spotlight: Library of Virginia

Virginia's Academic Library Consortium

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Transformation through Pandemic: 

Library of Virginia


November 5, 2020

Share a success story from your library’s shift online in response to the pandemic in the spring. How did your library change when campuses went online in the spring of 2020?

  • The Library of Virginia is the only non-academic research library in the VIVA consortium, so we are not tied to the academic calendar. While we closed our building in downtown Richmond to the public in mid-March and shifted most of our staff to teleworking, we continued to have a core group of staff members in the building every day. There was no interruption of our business as a state agency, and we were able serve our users (albeit remotely) without skipping a beat. Our reference archivists and librarians went above and beyond to respond to queries for information that came in via email and phone, scanning materials and emailing copies to users to meet their research needs. Fortunately, most staff members were already set up with the technology they needed to access our systems securely from home which facilitated the transition. I’m also amazed by the work that our circulation and stacks staff who ordinarily serve our collections directly to the public were able to accomplish between March and early July when our users were not physically here. Many collection management projects that have been on our “to do” list for ages were completed during those months, with staff working safely in the building every day.  

What are you most proud of in your library’s response to the rapid shift to online services?

  • I am so proud of the way Library of Virginia staff have stepped up to serve the public since we reopened the building to researchers in early July. Using the guidance we had from the Governor’s Office, the Virginia Department of Health, and other authorities, our public service team put protocols in place for the safe use of our reading rooms and devised a system for the public to make research appointments so that we can ensure physical distancing in the research areas every day. Staff reconfigured the furniture, installed custom plexiglass shields at all public service points, added an additional service point at the front door, and adapted their work flows to make sure that they could continue to provide excellent customer service while keeping everyone distanced and safe. Public service can be stressful in times such as these, but we have done everything we can to make our environment welcoming but safe, and our staff and our users are doing their best to keep it that way. 

What is a creative solution your library staff came up with to meet users’ needs in this environment?

  • Library of Virginia staff understand the importance of keeping connections to our users strong during these times, and once they realized that in-person events would not be possible for months to come, they quickly moved our programming to the virtual realm. It was challenging to learn new equipment and meeting platforms and figure out how to adjust presentations and panel discussions so that they would be effective in an online environment, but our staff rose to the challenge. We have held successful book talks, panels, and genealogical workshops online with a positive response from attendees who are grateful to have this content. We even managed to hold our annual Virginia Literary Awards events online this year, which allowed us to have authors from across the county as presenters and hundreds of attendees and viewers, something that would not have been possible when this was just an in-person celebration.  

How did VIVA, either through resources or its collaborative network, support your community during the emergency switch to online learning? 

  • Certainly the online resources we offer our users are more important now than ever. We also have been keeping a close eye on what VIVA members have done to adapt to the pandemic, how they were communicating with their user communities and with each other, and learned so much their example. We have been working to support VIVA through our Interlibrary Loan program, which is so important to the academic community.  

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your library’s experience supporting and/or collaborating with your campus community in the spring?

  • Every cloud has a silver lining, and we are certainly seeing that with the pandemic. We are eager to return to “normal,” with in-person meetings and gatherings again and no limits on the number of people we can welcome to the Library. But we have also learned a lot from our immersion into the virtual world. When all our pre-pandemic activities resume, we know we will be incorporating a number of the virtual components of the past year into our new normal going forward. Something positive to look forward to and to show from this period when our world was turned upside down.