Reflection from Julie Garrison

Posted by Sara Volmering on
Headshot of Julie Garrison, Dean of Western Michigan University Libraries.

Julie Garrison, Dean
University Libraries

The 2019-20 academic year certainly was like no other we have ever experienced! When the academic year began, we focused on planning several Waldo Library facility renovations, developing our next strategic plan, and expanding our events and programming. We hosted an artist in residence, a research skills day, a human library event, and a twin realities program comparing modern virtual reality and 19th-century stereographs. We acquired the David Small and Sarah Stewart working archive and began planning several events to introduce the collection to our community. In response to an overwhelming interest in our initial Open Education Resources (OER) Adoption Grant, we awarded nineteen $1,000 grants to faculty members for their commitment to convert to open educational resources in their classrooms. The campus was buzzing around Waldo Library’s first-floor renovation and the thriving Bookmark Café. We continued to grow our technology spaces, introducing a multimedia lab and Learning Glass studio to our offerings. We were advancing the University Libraries’ strategic plan and preparing for a new one. Our focus changed once the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic became clear, and we needed to adapt to a rapidly changing campus environment.

In March 2020, as the pandemic hit Michigan, state-wide executive orders required us to close our library facilities with only a few hours of notice. Events were postponed or canceled, and our onsite work was initially paused with the Stay Home, Stay Safe executive order. Given the strong virtual infrastructure already in place, the libraries’ staff and faculty quickly regrouped and pivoted to extend all of our services remotely, dedicating our efforts to supporting faculty and students completing the academic semester completely online.

Though we could not open our physical facilities, the libraries remained fully operational, continuing to provide research support, online chat, instruction, course reserves, the delivery of physical materials, and much more. A small team of staff continued to work in Waldo Library daily to pull, scan, and deliver physical materials. Others continued working remotely, ensuring our electronic resources continued to function and connecting users to the expanded access many commercial vendors temporarily made available. From their homes, faculty librarians responded to research questions and provided instructional assistance. In addition to upholding library services, our staff and faculty found themselves serving in new roles for the university – as instructional designers, course builders, and content consultants. Throughout the closure period, our library staff and faculty demonstrated great creativity and resilience in managing through very unsettling times. I have great admiration for the Libraries’ team and their unwavering dedication to our WMU students and faculty.

As we settle into the 2020-21 academic year, we know that our services and facilities will be different for a while. Our doors are now open again, and we are slowly re-introducing services as conditions allow. We anticipate it may take several months before we are offering a full suite of services onsite or planning face-to-face events or in-person instruction. We are living with new realities based upon budget cuts that require difficult choices about our services, collections, and facility renovation plans. Our mission and vision have not changed. However, the lessons learned in 2020 have us reimagining how we facilitate discovery and access.  The pandemic has affirmed our need to further our digitization efforts, continue to invest in advancing OER adoption, build upon our success in offering virtual instruction and programming, and support collecting information via the most current and relevant formats.  I know our amazingly talented and innovative staff and faculty will rise to the challenge of advancing the libraries and designing for the needs of our university community. Together, we will continue to strengthen the ways the University Libraries engage our users, both virtually and in our physical spaces.