Working at Wes during a Pandemic: Hurteau Helps Science Library Adapt to New Social Distancing Guidelines

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically affected the way faculty teach, students learn, and staff work to help the University. In this article, we spotlight Linda Hurteau, Science Library assistant, who has helped make the library a safe environment for patrons and staff alike.

The once busy and bustling Science Library, which stays open until 2 a.m. to accommodate those who study late into the night, is open for service this fall semester. However, the pandemic has drastically changed the way students interact with and use the library. And no one knows this better than Science Library Assistant Linda Hurteau, a 16-year veteran of Wesleyan Libraries.

“Most people are aware that Sci Li has always been the ‘noisy library’ because, from the basement to the second floor, the building is basically designed for students to be more social and group-study-friendly,” Hurteau said. “Without the ability to study in groups during this semester, we have less student traffic, and it feels very different and much quieter.”

Prior to the pandemic, Hurteau would come to campus prepared for a busy day of dealing with the remnants of the day before: searching for requested books, fixing jammed printers, maintaining copiers, working with fines and fees, putting furniture back where it belongs, and dealing with various building issues.

“I’d deal with so many students every day, and as any student who used the Science Library knows, we are a science library and supply store in one. We had always had available for any student pencils, pens, markers, staplers, scissors, folders, envelopes, and just about any other office supply they needed for their classwork. Obviously, lots of unseen projects are always happening, with library materials coming in and out and back on the shelf.”

But nowadays, Hurteau has altered her daily routine to emphasize keeping her library community safe.

Although students continue to frequent Sci Li to use public computers and printers, or to study or relax, the facility’s capacity may not exceed 50 percent. All library-goers and library staff wear masks at all times and practice social distancing.

Like students who first arrived on campus, the books also go through a quarantine period (of four days) before being recirculated. “We have the book stacks closed or off-limits at this time, and I think many students actually prefer it this way,” Hurteau said. “They request their books online, and we have them ready for students to grab and go in the lobby.”

The circulation desk is now lined with a clear, plexiglass wall to provide the staff and student workers with separation from the public. And the library’s lobby was reconfigured, by Hurteau, to allow for a safe and redirected traffic flow. You simply follow the oversized arrows.

“I have designed and constructed many parade floats on land and water for various holidays or other reasons. Anybody who works with large-scale temporary mediums knows we use lots of duct tape, cardboard, and zip ties,” she said. “I must have 50 different colors of duct tape. Using a couple carpet runners and those under-your-desk-chair carpet protectors, and making bright neon arrows out of duct tape on them, gets attention. It works very well for us.”

Hurteau credits the operating successes of the Science Library and Olin Library during the pandemic to early planning. Library staff began COVID-19 discussions as early as February and developed hypothetical scenarios and talked out various solutions to potential problems.

“Despite what some people may think, library people are very adaptable,” Hurteau said. “We knew we needed to successfully finish the semester.”

Hurteau recalls discussing how faculty could have all their course content available online; how the libraries could accommodate students’ needs in their pursuit to finish the academic year and earn their degree; how to deal with late books and waiving fines; how the campus community would retrieve their library materials; and who would and could work remotely.

“It was very obvious from the start that most of the circulation and reserve staff would still need to come to campus and work in the buildings. Once everything settled down from the spring 2020 semester, the digital requests for fall 2020 started coming in. Tons of scanning is still being done to upload for faculty course requests and reserves.”

Hurteau worked from home full-time for only two weeks and continued to manage 40 student workers through emails and Zoom meetings. “Once it was decided that the Science Library could offer many of the services we previously had through contactless means, it was (almost) business as usual,” she said.

In addition to working at the Science Library, Hurteau volunteers as a team captain for Wesleyan’s Campus Community Emergency Response Team (C-CERT).

“CERT members and Physical Plant staff have been . . . unsung heroes to many during this time,” she said. “Since the beginning of the pandemic and up until two days ago, it was mostly CERT members who would deliver breakfast, lunch, and dinner to students in quarantine on- and off-campus and be responsible for all the PPE kits on campus, from ordering and filling the bags, to distributing them to students, staff, and faculty. CERT members also would be the people on campus at 6 a.m., setting up the COVID testing tent, and in the evenings they would be the ones to pack it up for the day.”