Related product Collections Management

Preservation Snapshot at Northern Illinois University

Interviews with Leanne VandeCreek, Associate Dean for Public Services (and Acting Associate Dean for Collections Management until September 1, 2020) and Sarah McHone-Chase, Head of User Services and Faculty Librarian with additional comments by Susan Kapost, Head of the Technical Services Preservation Section at Northern Illinois University.

Mary Burns, Special Collections Catalog Librarian, Northern Illinois University

For 2020-2021, the CARLI Preservation Committee is sharing a series of interviews to explore CARLI members' responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. To provide a snapshot of how the pandemic affected the Northern Illinois University Library, Mary Burns, Special Collections Cataloger at NIU, interviewed members of the Library administration, faculty, and staff whose work was impacted by COVID-19. Contributors to the interview include Leanne VandeCreek, Associate Dean for Public Services (and Acting Associate Dean for Collections Management until September 1, 2020), Sarah McHone-Chase, Head of User Services and Faculty Librarian and Susan Kapost, Head of the Technical Services Preservation Section.

Read the project overview.

Interview with Leanne VandeCreek, Sarah McHone-Chase, and Susan Kapost:

What was your institution's original response to the statewide closure in March 2020?

Sarah McHone-Chase: We closed initially for maybe a month but have been mostly open (in a very limited capacity). Even during closure we were working to get materials to patrons. At first that was just digitizing and locating other electronic items to which we had access, but we have gradually opened up a bit more. Our decisions have been based on keeping patrons and staff safe, and what we can or cannot do while we wait out the pandemic.

Leanne VandeCreek: As Sarah states, even when we initially closed to the public altogether, we still had essential staff working in the building on a limited basis. We paged materials from stacks and/or loaned laptops by appointment. Later, we shifted to being more open—people still cannot browse the stacks or retrieve materials on their own, but they no longer need an appointment to pick up materials. We still have abbreviated hours (M – F, 9-5), but patrons can opt to pick up materials or technology via the locker system in the Lower Level vestibule, which is open from 6AM – 10PM, 7 days a week.

What staff and departments were involved?

Sarah McHone-Chase: User Services is Circulation, Interlibrary Loan (ILL), Reserves, Collection Maintenance, Mailroom, and Billing.

Leanne VandeCcreek: Also Facilities and Security.

Susan Kapost: Prior to the pandemic, the Preservation Section consisted of three FTE and two student employees, with additional FTE hours from an Acquisitions and Vendor Relations Section staff member. The focus of the Mending Unit was to repair print titles from the circulating collection. When the shelter-in-place mandate sent everyone to work from home, all mending functions stopped. When library staff were permitted to return to the library on a staggered and part-time basis in June, some mending was resumed by full-time staff. Unfortunately, the library eliminated all the student employee positions until the fall semester.

Were there special considerations for how your institution handled physical resources?

Sarah McHone-Chase: Very much so: Our general stacks are closed to patrons. Also, all returned materials are quarantined in an open area before being processed back into the collection. We deliver items to patrons via the Hold Shelf, in which case the patron just comes in to pick the item up, or by the lockers that we purchased after the pandemic began, in which case the patron doesn’t have physical contact with any of us.

Leanne VandeCreek: We have kept a close eye on the science-based decisions delivered via OCLC’s REALM reports, and quarantine materials accordingly (at present, for 24 hours; this has evolved over time). Staff are advised to wear gloves when handling materials that have been returned to us, and when delivering materials to patrons at the Circulation Desk.

Susan Kapost: The Technical Services Department followed the library policies created in response to the pandemic.

What were some preservation or conservation activities that were accomplished during the closure?

Sarah McHone-Chase: We don’t have these per se in User Services. We have concentrated on keeping the collection in good order so as not to potentially spread the virus.

Leanne VandeCreek: Facilities and Securities staff continued doing daily, in-depth rounds to check for leaks, check HVAC and associated temperatures. With fewer staff in the building, they made sure especially to check on the temperature controlled area of our Rare Book and Special Collections (RBSC) and Archives, and thoroughly check the basement. This was crucial since fewer staff were in the library on a regular basis, and some were not in their areas at all. It was during one of these checks that a water problem was located in RBSC. Items were removed according to emergency protocols, frozen, etc. At one point during the early summer, the temperatures were becoming too warm in the building. We were worried about what this could mean for our stacks materials, so Cliff Benson, our Facilities Operations Coordinator, contacted the Physical Plant to have our AC turned on sooner than it might otherwise have been.

Susan Kapost: There was no way any mending processes could be done during the shelter-in-place mandate. The newest staff member in the Preservation Section spent time investigating online preservation resources and information regarding digitization, in addition to other assigned work while working from home.

How did the closure and then re-opening impact preservation/conservation at your institution?

Leanne VandeCreek: Despite having fewer people in the building, we were still able to identify problems. That said, with staff not being fully in the building, routine repairs were put on the back burner and are still not as high a priority as they might be if everyone was working full time in the building.

Susan Kapost: In June, the University Libraries permitted staff whose jobs could not be done at home to return on a staggered and part-time basis. Because we knew the staff member who helped in mending planned to retire at the end of the year, there was some pressure to figure out how to take advantage of their knowledge and experience. It was a challenge to get as much training from them as we could under the restricted scheduling imposed due to the pandemic.

What are you doing to fulfill patron requests during this time?

Sarah McHone-Chase: Pretty much everything: We circulate our own collection, but users have to request those materials, which we pull for them to come pick up. We are using ILL, and we also put ILL items on our Hold Shelf or in our lockers for patrons to pick up. We still digitize a lot.

Leanne VandeCreek: Everything Sarah mentioned. The pandemic has permitted us to digitize larger portions of books for eReserves since Print Reserves is not an option. We are seeing an increased number of ILL requests. I think a larger proportion of those are being filled digitally since many libraries remain closed or have reduced staffing.

Susan Kapost: The records for materials needing repair are marked for Mending so if a patron needed a particular title, it can be located, repaired quickly, and made available to the patron. Even if the item cannot be repaired quickly, as long as it is for an NIU patron, we would allow it to be checked out to the patron. Once it is returned, it would be routed back to the Mending Unit.

What is your institution doing to incorporate lessons learned into future practices?

Sarah McHone-Chase: The more contactless pickup is, in many senses, more patron-friendly, including being more accessible in general. I want to take this lesson with me into future practices.

What did you learn from this experience? Has your institution changed?

Sarah McHone-Chase: I think we are still evolving, but we have embraced the idea that circumstances can rapidly change, and we need to be prepared for that.

Leanne VandeCreek: I agree that we have learned to be more comfortable with rapidly-changing circumstances, and that flexibility is key. We also have to be ok with trying a lot of new things, keeping what works and shedding what doesn’t.

Susan Kapost: It may be time to seriously consider how to incorporate digitization as a means of preservation into the future of the University Libraries.

Which sources have you relied on to inform your institutional policies?

Sarah McHone-Chase: The REALM testing that OCLC has performed. We have used this information to inform how long we isolate materials before returning them to the shelf.

Leanne VandeCreek: In addition to the REALM reports for materials, we are relying on guidance from university, local, and state officials to determine policy on how many study tables we can safely provide in an area, how many people can be in line at Einstein’s (coffee and café in the library’s Lower Level), requiring masks be worn in public areas of the library at all times, prohibiting food and drink inside the library at this time, etc.

Susan Kapost: The University Libraries followed NIU pandemic policies and the Technical Services Department followed University Libraries pandemic policies.

Return to A Snapshot of Our Preservation / Conservation Response to COVID-19 at CARLI Member Libraries, the homepage of the Preservation Committee's 2020-2021 Annual Project.