Portland Library Learning Commons is more connected to main campus one-year post-pandemic

With virtual internal communication becoming the new norm amid the COVID-19 pandemic, UO Portland Library feels connected to the rest of UO Libraries, now more than ever.

You may know it as the library just over 100 miles north up Interstate-5, but the Portland Library and Learning Commons (PLLC) offers a variety of unique resources and services to students based in the Portland area, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Formerly known as the Portland Architecture Library (1987-2008), PLLC now supports four different departments: Business, Law, Design, and Journalism, which in total offer ten programs. Since its opening, PLLC has primarily focused on helping graduate students enrolled in programs based in Portland, such as the Executive MBA program through the Lundquist College of Business.

However, with increased engagement with programs such as Product Design, Sports Product Management and Historic Preservation, as well as a myriad of adjustments needing to be made amid the COVID-19 pandemic, PLLC has found unique and innovative ways to pivot.

Other than one full week of complete shutdown in March, PLLC staff have mostly been on-site throughout the entire pandemic (with CDC-approved safety precautions being taken accordingly, including limited staff members working at a time and cleaning routines in place). When the worst of the pandemic hit and most students and faculty were left with no way to obtain necessary library resources, PLLC staff were there to help—one in particular being UO Portland Library Manager Michael Brown.

“If people couldn’t come to campus to get their books, we shipped them to their house immediately,” said Brown. “While we couldn’t have on-site study spaces until this past fall when we opened, we’ve been here scanning various items (approximately 80 book chapters and a dozen articles) to help with course content in Canvas. We did what was needed for our students and faculty to keep going.”

During this time, PLLC staff offered curbside and lobby pick-up options for individuals needing to check out physical resources. They also prepared electronic equipment, such as laptops, that could be borrowed for weeks at a time for those that needed immediate access to those resources. Additionally, interesting challenges presented opportunities for PLLC staff to get creative with shipping options when the Summit Courier Service was shut down and most items had to be shipped using FedEx instead.

Since re-opening in the fall, PLLC staff has also added new resources. For example, UO students, staff and faculty can now submit print orders through an online form to be picked up when they’re ready. Though, Brown certainly had help implementing these COVID-focused initiatives from his fellow Portland Library staff members, including Access Services Coordinator Paula Martin and graduate student employees Kevin La, Billy Nee, and Lauren Huff.

In addition to physical resources being brought to them, PLLC staff worked hard to adapt operations on-site and create a safe space for individuals who needed not only the technology that a library atmosphere offers, but also the peace and quiet.

More specifically, Brown and his staff not only set up safe and CDC-abiding procedures for study spaces (i.e. socially distancing spaces from each other and installing plexi-glass and sanitizing stations), but also went as far as to set up a 360 degree virtual tour accessible via the PLLC website for students looking to get a visual idea of what the spaces would look like before they reserved one.

Martin has seen particularly rewarding results from PLLC’s COVID-19 response efforts so far.

“The students that I’ve encountered have been very thankful,” said Martin. “It’s been a good response overall.”

Looking back at this past year, it’s no doubt that adjusting to COVID-19 restrictions and protocols has been challenging for all UO students, staff and faculty. However, switching to primarily virtual means of internal communication has proved beneficial to connecting the Portland branch to its fellow libraries in Eugene.

Pre-pandemic, Brown and his fellow PLLC staff members would make the occasional trip to Eugene for staff meetings, but, for the most part internal communication was mainly handled with video conference options that posed a number of problems for the few individuals calling in.

“I can think of many times when I would participate in an all-staff meeting when my video would get behind the presentation, and I would be forgotten about,” said Brown. “That’s not happening anymore because we’re all together and we want to find ways to maintain that.”

Before deciding on Microsoft Teams as the main communication tool for internal information, UO Libraries staff and faculty experimented with old chat systems such as Skype and Bluejeans. However, deciding on Teams has proved to be helpful in creating a uniform method of internal communication across branches.

“We have broad adoption now of these tools across UO Libraries, and with most people working remote, Teams has become the norm whether working on or offsite,” said Brown.

With all UO Library staff and faculty on the same page in terms of virtual communication for internal affairs, the distance between PLLC and the main campus feels much smaller and branches feel much more connected.

“Since I’ve been here, the goal has been to reconnect [PLLC] with the other branches,” said Brown. “The pandemic has actually bridged that gap because I think it was the distance that defined how we offered our services. We’re more connected now than we were pre-pandemic.”

Looking forward to future internal operations for UO Libraries, Brown hopes to see larger staff meetings switched to entirely virtual or at least a hybrid approach in order to level the playing field and bridge the gap between campuses.

“Our small size and distance from the main campus remains a factor, but we are hopeful the new tools for communication will remain long after the pandemic is over,” said Brown. “We know from hosting outside organizations at the UO Portland campus that one size does not fit all when it comes to these platforms. However, as a university, it’s time to come together and use the common tools for better or worse.”

Overall, though the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a unique challenge to UO Libraries staff, students and faculty, adopting a uniform medium for virtual internal communication has made the distance between PLLC and the Eugene campus feel much smaller than 100 miles.

- by Kenzie Hudler, Social Media Writing Assistant, UO Libraries