University Libraries Adapt Protocols and In-Person Services for Autumn Quarter

New protocols have taken shape in library buildings as in-person offerings resume.


By Michael McClure

After more than six months of being closed to the public, UChicago’s on-campus libraries reopened for in-person appointments on September 29, with a host of procedures informed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an email to The Maroon, Library Director and University Librarian Brenda Johnson explained the new policies governing each of the libraries on campus.

“The libraries are operating successfully as we work to provide services that students and faculty have indicated are most important to them in Autumn Quarter’s hybrid learning environment,” Johnson said. The library staff’s primary focus has been on adapting study spaces and print resources to the norms of the pandemic.

The seat reservation service, found in three buildings—Regenstein Library, Mansueto Library, and Crerar Library—is chief among the new procedures. Students must book seats for quiet, individual study at least twelve hours in advance, with slots reserved in half-hour increments for up to three consecutive hours. Those with reservations in Regenstein and the adjacent Mansueto have access to the University’s multifunction device printers.

In accordance with the UChicago Health Pact, social distancing and mask-wearing must be observed at all times in library buildings. Patrons are also asked to clean their seats at the start and end of each study reservation. More communal spaces like group study rooms and the Ex Libris Café in Regenstein remain closed this quarter.

Nevertheless, the in-person slots have been a hot commodity. During the first three weeks of autumn quarter, over 1,200 students made more than 4,300 study reservations. In response to the high demand, additional seats were added before the start of fifth week to Mansueto and Regenstein, doubling the capacity of the latter. Johnson stated in her email that afternoons from 1–5 p.m. were generally the busiest times for study seats, with the 2–3 p.m. hour proving the most popular.

There are additional restrictions for accessing specialized library services, like the recently renamed Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center (SCRC). To consult materials in the SCRC reading room, which is open for two hours on Thursdays and Fridays, appointments must be scheduled at least five days ahead of time.

Not all the libraries are open to everyone, however. To de-densify the buildings, only UChicago law students can enter the D’Angelo Law Library and only Social Service Administration (SSA) students can enter the SSA Library. Eckhart Library remains closed at this time.

Regenstein, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, has become the fulcrum of library activity. Since physical access to bookstacks is prohibited, the new Paging & Pickup option allows patrons to collect materials from any University library in the outer lobby of Regenstein. For those who prefer an entirely online experience, Scan & Deliver provides digital copies of print resources from the library collections.

This altered and digitized setup has not changed the libraries’ ultimate goal: serving the University population. The Ask a Librarian feature is available via email and text, and other offerings include workshops, virtual events, and one-on-one consultations with subject librarians through email, phone, and Zoom.

 “I strongly encourage students to get to know librarians by using these services,” Johnson wrote in her email to The Maroon. “We are here to help you.”