Week 18: Coming Back to Countway in the Middle of a Pandemic: Lessons for Going Beyond Surviving to Thriving.

For me, the process of moving from surviving the closure of the campus and Countway Library, in particular, delivering services remotely, working at home while being alone together, to recovering and thriving as we ramp up to being back on campus and providing onsite library services is not just a physical journey but frankly, a state of being. It is not simply about being able to return to Countway as it was before the pandemic because Countway before the pandemic no longer exists.

The experience of returning to the library is transformational as the library is not the way we left it in March. Of course, there is the physical transformation as a result of the construction, but there are other more meaningful transformations as well.

How do we avoid getting stuck in a library that was and embrace a new library? This requires a shift of mindset— letting go of the past and embracing the future. Moving beyond survival and recovery to thriving requires embracing the many changes we have encountered as a result of construction and COVID-19, to providing onsite services, and accepting the opportunities and challenges that come with building a new future for ourselves, Countway, and the LMA community who needs access to evidence-based resources and services. I have moved beyond dealing with the emergency and planning for the ramp-up of our onsite library operations to actively thinking about how to reinvent Countway as an organization, and how we can get energized by the challenges and opportunities this reinvention can provide us. So, here are some of the basic ideas I feel can help us move forward.

  1. Safety first. Although we will not be able to eliminate all risks, we can minimize them by adhering to CDC guidelines, Harvard safety protocols, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts directives regarding handwashing, mask-wearing, social distancing, and building density.
  2. Embrace thinking differently. The world has changed and how we work has changed.
  3. Teamwork is Essential. While teamwork must be part of all aspects within Countway for a successful implementation of library operations and for us to reopen and stay open safely, we must continue to partner with security, EHS, facilities, space planning, construction, IT, Business Continuity, etc. Within Countway, we cannot operate in departmental silos, and we cannot do this externally either.
  4. We are part of a medical community. Medical, dental, and public health students cannot meet graduation requirements without direct patient care experiences. The MD and DMD are not online degrees. There will be students back on campus and they will want library services. How we provide these services and places to study will remain challenging yet provide opportunities for long-term innovation from us.
  5. We are part of the research ramp-up plan and Phase 1 reopening.  Access to library resources both print and electronic are vital to the Harvard research community. E-only is not sufficient for the researchers we collaborate with.
  6. Decades of financial investment in library IT infrastructure, integrated library systems, developing library websites, and access to electronic books and journals paid off when we shut down. Although our building was closed, the library remained open. Services doubled and sometimes tripled.
  7. Despite our successful transition to remote research, teaching, learning, and collections access, there are still some services that must be done onsite and are requested by our users. There are still needs for physical study space, print collection access, special and historical collections, scan and deliver services for materials not available electronically to support integration into the curriculum, and the BML inventory—all of which require onsite access to the building and all its collections.
  8. We must be mindful of racism, health disparities, racial injustice in health care delivery, police brutality against Blacks, and other social justice issues. The focus on safety, protocols, and guidelines for returning to work can not distract us from the need for equity and fairness. It’s not an either-or, we must focus on both. We can be safe, equitable, and fair about who returns to Countway.

“The historic challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while building the future”-Henry Kissinger

Together we are not just managing the pandemic and its impact on library resources and services. We are building a new future for Countway as a team together, in a hybrid environment of onsite and remote work. How cool is that!