Behind-the-scenes of campus libraries re-opening

Graphic by Sarah Morassutti

After 18 months, libraries at the University of Waterloo are finally re-opening their doors to the public. Students, faculty, staff and community members are welcome to use the on-campus facilities again while making sure to adhere to public health guidelines.


On Sept. 7, the Dana Porter Library, the Davis Centre Library, Musagetes Architecture Library, Renison’s Lusi Wong Library and Conrad Grebel Milton Good Library reopened. St. Jerome’s University Library followed shortly after, reopening on Sept. 9. 

As libraries are considered instructional spaces under the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities’ guidelines for reopening universities, the library has implemented the same safety and access protocols as UW classrooms, including requirements for visitors to be vaccinated and to wear masks. 

“The library is strategically scheduling staff to work both on campus and remotely, such that physical distancing can be easily maintained while achieving our goal of supporting UW learning and research,” stated Adam Savage, the head of Library Technology & Facility Services. “In situations where physical distancing is a challenge, staff wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in accordance with university policies and public health guidance.” 

The library has additionally decided to maintain digital course reserves and access to the HathiTrust Digital Library to ensure all UW students and staff can access necessary research materials, even if they are not physically in Waterloo. Consequently, the library has had to ”limit access to the physical library collection,” which has “created interesting challenges that impact traffic flow, monitoring requirements, and emergency evacuation pathways,” according to Savage. 

Despite physical locations shutting down in March 2020, the UW libraries “like  to think that [they] never closed,” as library staff continued to work hard providing “virtual sources and access to digital collections, course reserves and other resources that support learning and research,” according to university librarian Beth Namachchivaya, the head of library services at UW. 

“The challenge of what to do if your library can’t circulate books pushed all libraries to go mainly digital, and we found workable emergency solutions that UW is leveraging while the public health situation continues to fluctuate,” Namachchivaya said. 

Most library staff transitioned to providing online support for students and faculty, including developing databases for local research output, placing digital materials on course reserve, online instruction, ordering and cataloguing books and journals and virtual chat reference. In particular, the use of virtual chat reference, according to Namachchivaya, quadrupled in 2020 as compared to 2019. 

The UW library department took several “bold steps” to ensure that instructors and students had access to the materials they needed to carry on with their normal studies, as digitization was often limited by copyright laws and licenses. Such steps included joining the HathiTrust Digital Library, which was able to provide UW students and staff with digitized copies of many of the library’s books, and working with course instructors to determine what materials needed to be available for online course reserves, often using “generous donor funds to purchase digital books, digital lab and classroom support materials and other learning resources,” according to Namachchivaya. 

Though the libraries are only now opening more fully to the public, library staff have also been working on-site during the pandemic, “preparing books for patron pickup, facilities and technology support, digitization of materials for interlibrary loan and course reserves, and the maintenance and organization of print collections of books, journals, special collections and archives,” said Savage. 

The Davis Centre Library opened reservable study space and the Dana Porter Library has offered book pickup, both of which started in Summer 2020. Additionally, a library-wide team has been working closely with the Safety Office and other academic support units on campus to prepare the libraries for Fall term re-opening since May 2021. 

“We prioritized the activities that need to be done on-site to support UW learning and research — these have been our guiding principles as we have planned for the Library Return to Campus,” said Meghan Whitfield, the head of Communications and Advancement of the library. As Whitfield describes, library staff utilized feedback from UW students, instructors, researchers and staff to ensure that the library could provide effective services and support while also adhering to UW’s safety guidelines.

Despite restrictions, the library staff know that students and staff depend on them for information “‘anywhere, anytime” and are committed to continuing their support for learning and research. 

The Dana Porter Library and Davis Centre Library are open for drop-in study carrels and computer workstations as well as book pickup and delivery. Dana Porter Library is open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the Davis Centre Library is open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., and weekends from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

For more information regarding additional library services and information about the other campus libraries, students can visit the library’s online services and operations page or follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.