On the Brink of the Abyss; Planning for Library Services after the Plunge

by Beau Steenken

Though I have written about politically-related topics a time or two on this blog, this week’s title does not refer to North Korea, Syria , Russia, or France. No, the title refers to something much more certain and imminent: the total evacuation of the University of Kentucky College of Law for a complete building renovation. We will be exiled to temporary housing (an old seminary building that U.K. purchased when the seminary decided to transition to online-only education) for a period of at least two years. During this exile, the vast majority of our collection will be sent to storage literally in a cave (this is Kentucky we are talking about after all). Furthermore, the law library’s physical presence in exile will be reduced to an area with a circulation ILL desk (there won’t really be a collection to circulate), a reference desk, two public access computers, a single four-seat table, and a scattering of bookshelves for the handful of heavily used titles we’re managing to take with us. Beyond this official “library,” we will have a large communal office partitioned to provide work spaces for our six librarians (4 reference & 2 tech services… everybody but our director, really) so that students and faculty will at least be able to find a reference librarian when needed. Our exile is set to begin in less than a month.

Needless to say, my colleagues and I are feeling a tad amount of stress about this looming challenge. Yet, we’ve managed to make some plans about how to conduct necessary library services in less than ideal circumstances. During the exile, we will still teach legal research classes, both for 1Ls and upper-level students, and we will still offer reference services to faculty, students, and the public. The only service that will really be going away is circulation, and it’s not so much going away as morphing into an extremely robust ILL service. However, even the services we continue to offer will necessarily have to be changed to accommodate our changed environment.

In terms of teaching, the biggest change relates to the number of print books available. (Luckily, finding classrooms for our classes falls on our Associate Dean, so we managed to avoid at least some stress.) At U.K. we still teach print resources the first few weeks of class as a foundation to aid students in recognizing what Westlaw/Lexis throw at them. Typically, we have the students visit the library to complete their in-class exercises, where we have multiple sets of digests and codes available. That will not work so well in our temporary space. We are managing to take two sets of the Kentucky Revised Statutes with us, as well as a copy of the Kentucky Digest and Kentucky Digest 2d, so at least we’ll still be able to teach print. That’s not a lot of books for our students to share, though, so visits to the library (not that there’ll be space anyway) will be replaced by taking bookcarts to the classroom. Also, rather than split my students into groups, I think I’m going to have to have the whole class work on the exercise collectively via the use of an overhead projector. It’s less than ideal, but I think I can make it work.

In terms of reference services, we think our biggest challenge is going to be making sure our users know where they can get the reference service they need, though, of course, we are more concerned about some user groups than others. For instance we feel confident that our faculty (especially being faced with greater need for ILL materials with our collection boxed up) will think to email us when faced with a research problem.

Students may remember to email us too, though we are a bit worried about being out of sight and out of mind. Right now, the library is pretty much the only public space in the law school for students to study, so they all walk right by us. That will not be the case in the temporary digs. Our plan for mitigating this effect is to go semi-nomad and send a reference librarian with a tablet to hover in whatever public areas are students end up occupying next year.

The biggest challenge may be in continuing to reach our public patrons. We’ll put notices up on our website, but we get a lot of walk-ins, so we’re not sure the website will reach everyone. Also, because construction will be ongoing on our old building, we’re not sure about the durability or efficacy of putting physical signs up. Thus, we’re attempting a word of mouth campaign. First, we’re alerting all the other librarians on campus where they can send people. Second, we’re going to try to go to local bar events/local library association events to try to spread the word. Finally, we’ve been verbally mentioning it to every public patron who enters the library.

Will these steps be effective? We really do not know, having never done it before. If anybody has other suggestions, please send them along.  I imagine issues will arise that we have not anticipated, but we’ll have to adapt on the fly to those. I’m trying to talk myself into the fact that this won’t be so bad, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s this sort of “not so bad.

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This entry was posted in Legal Research Instruction, Patron Services, Planning, Reference Services. Bookmark the permalink.

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