This is the first of two pieces from staff at the University of Wollongong Library in New South Wales, Australia. Read the second piece.
The University of Wollongong transitioned a largely campus-based curriculum to remote delivery in a rapid response to the COVID-19 crisis. Within a few weeks of the decision to start delivering services remotely, the library had transitioned about 90% of the workforce to a work-from-home model. Because we had been moving deliberately and steadily in this direction for a number of years, we transitioned quickly with no significant drop in the level of service to students or academics. In 2018, the library launched a multi-year Future Ready Library strategy designed to shift towards a digital-first focus. To this end, the library was well advanced in applying this digital-first mindset to services and resources. By February 2020, we had successfully completed:
- the content strategy (principles and application) for the development of content for online discovery and delivery,
- a significant collection modernisation project, including a large-scale print-to-electronic conversion enabling an overall 30% reduction in our print collection and the removal of a further 40% to offsite storage,
- targeted rollout of digital learning objects to support student digital and information literacies,
- an intensive internal training and development focus on improving digital literacies, and
- implementation of proactive chat.
At the same time, we introduced the use of Microsoft Teams into the library workflows. Only recently available as an enterprise system, by the beginning of March 2020, the Digital Strategy portfolio teams within the library had taken up the platform, and the executive team were beginning to experiment with its use as a communication and collaboration tool. We were already using Sharepoint 365 and many teams within the library were then using a range of tools such as Slack, Asana, and Webex to augment this. With SharePoint already established as the main document repository and communication tool for the library, we worked with the central IT unit to enable MS Teams with a staggered release across the unit.
There’s no doubt that the use of MS Teams has facilitated a smooth transition to working remotely for the majority of library staff. As a remote work portal with group, project, and social channels, it has enabled us to maintain the cross-unit communication and sense of connection that is critical to continuing to successfully deliver services to our students and staff.
Moving a staff of 70+ to working remotely hasn’t been without its challenges and we are now experimenting with finding plugins or compatible tools that allow us to extend the functionality and sense of connection (and well-being). For example, we prefer to use Zoom (also an enterprise platform) for large meetings as it provides the ability to have the gallery view and therefore see more of our colleagues on the screen at once rather than the maximum of four provided by MS Teams.
Looking ahead, the rapid move to remote working, enabled by our underlying digital-first mindset and effective use of MS Teams, has resulted in most of our staff feeling confident and competent in delivering services, whilst staying connected at a distance. There are lessons from this rapid-fire experience that will inform our service delivery over the longer term and we look forward to continuing the approach to innovation and creativity that has been a hallmark of this crisis event.
Editor’s note: This is the sixth piece in COVID (Re)Collections, a new series exploring responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by library, cultural heritage, and information professionals. Stories are proposed by the authors/contributors and reflect their personal experiences and perspectives at the time of submission. Learn more about the series and share your own story here.