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“Stay Home, Stay Healthy” at Central Washington University Libraries

—Lauren Wittek, assistant professor and user experience and assessment librarian at Central Washington University Brooks Library.

Despite other academic and public library systems in Washington State closing their facilities in early- to mid-March due to COVID-19, Central Washington University (CWU) Libraries initially tried to remain open with regular business hours. That changed the morning of March 18, 2020, when we received word of potential exposure at our Brooks Library location. In a matter of hours, we shut down all of our locations and packed up our work to transition to fully virtual services.

For context, CWU’s main campus is located in Kittitas County, which has about 41,000 residents. While reported cases in Kittitas County are quite low, we share a border with King County, where approximately 41% of the state’s COVID-19 cases have occurred, and Yakima County, which now has one of the highest rates of infection per capita of any county on the West Coast.

On March 23rd, Governor Jay Inslee issued the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order requiring all non-essential employees across the state to work from home. CWU’s spring break was extended by a  week, which allowed us a bit of extra time to rapidly implement changes to best meet the needs of online teaching and learning. To adapt we:

  1. Updated our homepage layout to prominently display the various ways for faculty, staff, and students to seek research help. Prior to the onset of the crisis, we had begun planning a website revamp. Our site is still a work in progress, but we needed a quick fix before the start of spring quarter.
  2. Streamlined the virtual consultation appointment process by allowing users to make appointments directly with a librarian of their choice.
  3. Maintain a strong social media presence, focused on our provision of virtual services in light of the closure of our physical spaces, and highlight our new and traditional resources.
  4. Updated our 24/7 synchronous chat widget to be clear and easier to read.
  5. Created and regularly update our service updates page as a way to collate information that is pandemic-specific in a single, easy-to-find location.
  6. While physical interlibrary loan services are suspended, we offer chapter and article scans and home delivery of our physical collection to students, faculty, and staff.
  7. Steadily ramped up our online events, which have included haiku and limerick contests and an online version of our Cultural Conversations program, where a guest speaker shares their experiences living and working abroad through storytelling. We are now planning a research workshop, a conversation with the dean about how the library is responding to COVID-19, and a panel discussion with information professionals for those interested in the field.

As the user experience and assessment librarian, I, along with my colleagues, have been working overtime to implement and communicate many of the changes to our campus community. We are trying our best to promote the library’s new services and offerings, while not adding to the information overload we are all experiencing as a result of the crisis.

Summer classes will remain online, so we will continue to fine-tune what we are offering in terms of research help and programming. As of now, we do not know what the fall quarter will look like, but we are making plans for fully online, in-person, and hybrid options.

Central Washington University
Barge Hall at sunset; courtesy Central Washington University. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Like many other workplaces, our library’s rapid shift to online services has been a “learn-as-you-go” experience that, while overwhelming for faculty and staff at times, has taught us important lessons about how students value and interpret information. As CWU Libraries evolves, I would like to curate digital displays and exhibits as another way to feature our e-resources; seek out informal feedback via our website or social media to see what our users need from us moving forward; and offer drop-in hours for specialized support, such as creating tutorials, citation management, and privacy awareness.

While this situation has been incredibly stressful, I think it highlights just how nimble libraries can be, particularly under pressure. I envision many of these online services will continue in the years to come, regardless of when or to what extent in-person instruction resumes—precisely because these new offerings are so valuable.


Editor’s note: This is the tenth piece in COVID (Re)Collections, a 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.

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