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Pandemic perspectives: A “concierge” for library users pivots during the pandemic

Jeffrey Frank is the Unified Service Point (USP) coordinator for the San José State University Library, an eight-story public library and university library located in downtown San Jose, California. Jeffrey oversees the day-to-day operations of the circulation desk and works in the User Experience Department. Jeffrey shares his experience during the past year, including how his department transitioned during the pandemic.

The following are excerpts from our interview, edited for length and clarity.

How has the pandemic affected the way you see the future of university libraries? 

One of the pandemic’s greatest impacts was on day-to-day, in-person transactions. One of my primary roles in the User Experience Department is to act as a sort of ‘concierge’ for library users. The extended duration for how long the library was forced to suspend in-person services due to the severity of the pandemic obviously shone a light on the need to reevaluate how we could still deliver these services to users in a virtual fashion. It was remarkable to see how quickly our library was able to reconfigure accessibility, and deliver resources to the needs of the community in virtual and contactless delivery formats.

In hindsight, I think a silver lining of the pandemic’s impact was that we transitioned our library’s resources and services into virtual and contactless formats in short order. I feel that there will now be a real push toward the integration of electronic resources into academic libraries’ information arsenal that are offered to users.

How has the pandemic changed the work that you do? 

The nature of the work that I do as the USP coordinator is largely done in person, but with a fair number of virtual elements. As a result, the work that I was doing while telecommuting ended up having a relatively small learning curve as I temporarily transitioned to providing library service virtually and later via a contactless item pick-up format. 

Now that I have returned to my position on-site, I have found it has been largely easy to plug back into the pre-pandemic days of doing my position (though in the initial days of being back in the building it was more taxing).

What do you miss most about your "pre-pandemic" work life?

I miss the more casual, laid-back way of just “being.” The pandemic has produced an extra layer of “by the book” rules that, for obvious reasons, cannot be casually dismissed and we all must follow in order to ensure safe in-person interactions with library users and fellow staff.

What do you see as being the biggest impact on students?

From my perspective, the current (and hopefully temporary) restriction of the number of in-person classes being held on campus for the fall 2021 semester has translated to having the circulation desk see less traffic than in non-pandemic years’ past. I have heard increasing whispers that we should have more in-person classes for the spring 2022 term, which means more students on campus and, thus, more traffic at the desk.

What do you see as being the biggest impact on staff?

I would say it would all fall under the umbrella of “uncertainty,” ranging from changes in how we are delivering library services, to changes in staff duties, or even to whether there will be more future prolonged library shutdowns.

What have you learned from the pandemic that you're applying to your work?

I’m incorporating the regular disinfecting/cleaning of the circulation desk and other frequently used surfaces such as door handles, book drops, patron-facing keyboards, and mice, etc., as often as possible in between transactions. I’m also realizing that people have varying degrees of trepidation about being back in the library, whether as a staff member or a user. As a result, I’m applying being more patient with people as we continue to acclimate being back in the library.

What was the biggest challenge for your job during the pandemic?

My biggest challenge while telecommuting during the pandemic was finding enough work for my student assistants to both justify paying them and ensure that the work was robust enough to keep their interest [laughs]. We had to get creative, but we made it work! That was one of my primary goals—to do everything I could to keep our student employees paid and working.


Photos courtesy: Jeffrey Franks