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Brown libraries welcome back undergraduate students

Most of the University’s library buildings opened their doors to undergraduate students Monday

As the University welcomed back undergraduate students into classrooms Monday, it also allowed students back into three of the University’s libraries as part of the school’s move to a Level 2 Campus Activity Status. 

Starting on Oct. 5, undergraduate students were able to reserve two-hour time slots at the John Hay Library, the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library and the Sciences Library. Graduate and medical students have had access to libraries since Sept. 16, when they resumed in-person classes. 

The libraries’ online reservation system allows users to book a socially distanced study space at any of the three libraries up to a week in advance. Students are required to show their reservation confirmation on their phones to library staff and wear masks before they can proceed to their study spot and check-in. 

As for maintaining health and safety, the libraries are operating under a “clean in/clean out” system, where students are given 30-minute time slots in between reservations to wipe down their study area before departing. Cleaning resources are distributed throughout the library spaces.

“I think it’s been going really, really well,” Nora Dimmock, deputy University librarian, told The Herald. “Students are generally wearing their masks in their library and they’re finding their seats pretty easily.” 

Isabella Yepes ’23 and Alyssa Steinbaum ’23 both said the reservation process “was pretty easy, you just log on and select a seat and when you click on information it tells you where the seat is.”

Being able to return to the library felt “really nice,” Yepes said. “It’s so much better than my room.”

The total capacity across libraries is around 422 seats. As of Wednesday, there were 481 unique site users and a total of 1,069 bookings on the reservation website for October. 

Currently, all students are prohibited from entering the library stacks and finding materials themselves. Students can instead submit a request for materials for contactless pickup. Carrels are reserved for graduate and medical students only.

“While the stacks are closed, we are committed to getting students whatever resources they need, however we can get it to them,” Dimmock said. 

Librarians are available for virtual reference inquiries or consultations, and will not be interacting face-to-face with students on-site, University Librarian Joseph Meisel said. Many new resource guides and video tutorials made by librarians are also available online. 

“We’ve been reinventing how we do our business,” Meisel said. 

In addition to offering in-person study spaces, the libraries have expanded their digital collections and resources during the pandemic. 

“We used to have about 500 textbooks and books, full-volume, on reserve in the Rock every semester,” Dimmock said.  “What we’ve done is digitize those books this semester and they’re linked through Canvas on a virtual hold shelf so students can check that book out for two hours.” 

The libraries are also digitally distributing course materials and readings that were previously sold in the Brown Bookstore as “course packs,” helping faculty transition courses to online delivery and digitizing or finding digital surrogate library materials and excerpts online for faculty and students. 

Between July 6 and Oct. 5, more than 8,000 pages of special collections material from the Hay have been scanned for undergraduates.

“I want to reiterate how happy we are that we can welcome students back into the spaces and ... that this is your library and we’re trying to make it as user-friendly and welcoming as possible and a whole lot of us have been spending a whole lot of time trying to put that effort into it and we will continue,” said Amanda Strauss, associate University librarian for special collections. 

“We’re all still here and really accessible and the resources are as accessible as we can make them,” she added.

Students are encouraged to send feedback to or through the anonymous Library Environment Feedback form for continuous improvement of library resources and spaces.


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