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VIVA: Member Spotlight: James Madison University

Virginia's Academic Library Consortium

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Transformation through Pandemic: 

James Madison University

October 2020

Share a success story from your library's response to the pandemic?

  • We are a blended library and educational technology organization here at JMU — so alongside the huge array of innovative and traditional library services we offer, we are also responsible for providing instructional design and online learning expertise to our faculty, and for all the technologies that support teaching, campus-wide. This includes academic software, infrastructure like Canvas, and even classroom equipment for in-person, hybrid, and HyFlex instruction. So it was no surprise that we were looked to, to lead JMU’s emergency transition to online learning in the spring — and then to help our faculty and students prepare for and weather an unpredictable, eventful fall. The success of that effort, and the tremendous labor it represents on the part of our Libraries team, has not gone unrecognized. In an April interview, our university president praised the “staff in JMU Libraries [who] accomplished a massive lift helping faculty to make the transition,” — and our provost’s communications to faculty frequently give a nod to the our “phenomenal efforts,” saying things like, “As we can all attest at this point, the Libraries have gone above and beyond.” Nicest of all, this year the Libraries, along with some of our key campus partners, won one of JMU’s highest honors: the Purple Star Award for Teamwork. (In fact, we won two Purple Stars! See below.)  

What are you most proud of in your library’s response to quickly shifting needs both on and off campus, virtual and in-person?

  • Supporting an effort like that truly took a village — and at a time when our Libraries staff and faculty were themselves adjusting to telework and new ways of collaborating online, and to other stressors in their personal lives related to the pandemic: health concerns, unexpected childcare or elder care responsibilities, in some cases loneliness, partners’ job losses, or other worries. As an organization, we’re proud of each other! So many people have shown great care for their co-workers — pitching in fluidly across departments to fill gaps and meet pressing needs, and creating brand new communications pathways for work, as well as opportunities to check in on each other and stay connected as colleagues and friends. Many of our faculty and staff have also dedicated their time and energy to self-examination and concrete action, as part of a larger JMU project to promote racial equity, grapple with our past, and become a more actively antiracist campus. In the Libraries, we try to take a thoughtful and caring approach to our service to the JMU community. We look out for (and sometimes challenge!) each other — because community and care also start at home.    

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

  • In the early days of the pandemic — and right around the time we had to cancel what was meant to be the nation’s first conference on 3d printing across the curriculum — the Libraries used all of the printers in our two makerspaces and our fabrication classroom (3SPACE) to galvanize a community-based effort to aid Harrisonburg health care workers. More than 20 staff and faculty from across JMU (many in Libraries) joined forces with hobbyists and local businesses to respond to the national shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE). Together, we printed and assembled some 3,000 face shields in the first 30 days of the effort, which came in response to requests from our local hospital, nursing homes, clinics, and first responders. This was the reason our faculty and staff were acknowledged with another 2020 JMU Purple Star Award, this time for Community Service and Volunteerism! 

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

  • Besides the wonderful and supportive community that so many of us have found in VIVA — and its strong resource-sharing network — we have also been grateful to be part of the VIVA Bookstore Curriculum-Driven Acquisitions Pilot Program. This experiment is a terrific example of VIVA’s creativity, foresight, and commitment to helping us all meet our goals to be good stewards of public funds and keep the costs of a Virginia college education affordable for the students we serve. Thank you, VIVA!