Clemson Libraries Works with Brightspot to Ensure a Safe Reopening

Posted originally on June 23, 2020 here.

brightspot strategy, which works with colleges to transform their student experience by better connecting their people, places and programs, released collective findings and best practices from 38 public and private, top ranked institutions, that focuses on the specific needs and interests of campus school architects and facility designers, library leaders, and student affairs leaders.

“This fall universities will be tested to see if they can reopen amidst the greatest pandemic in a century and we are finding that the power of the network effect – coalescing campus leaders together – is helping them develop planning and incorporate new ideas into their existing reopening plans,” said Elliot Felix, Founder and CEO of brightspot strategy. “There’s an overwhelming desire to leverage the short-term response of an uncertain fall semester into long- term institutional change.”

Library Leaders

Anticipating fewer study seats in the library, librarians highlighted a need for identifying the broader network of study spaces across the campus and coordinating student activities across the entire institution. As examples, library leaders at Clemson, University of Rochester and North Carolina State have enacted innovative plans for social distancing, space configurations, check points, limiting touch points, and new training for staff.

Libraries are the microcosm of the challenges facing campuses in the fall and library leaders expressed concerns about maintaining equity in access to library spaces, services, and materials as the university reopens.

Campus Architects and Planners

Architects and planners celebrated increased productivity and decision-making while acknowledging that serendipity, nuance, and critical thinking may be diminished as a result of working remotely. As leaders of capital projects with domain over the physical campus, they were concerned about the potential to both overreact and underreact regarding long term projects and more immediate retrofitting.

Many institutions have big projects that are in design or under construction. The pandemic is prompting questions about whether it makes sense to keep those large lecture halls or all that office space and how to adapt to not just immediate needs but fit those within the long term plans in the new normal of physical distance as well as distance learning.

Student Affairs Leaders

Student affairs leaders shared that they were able to pivot services to the online environment. Many did this using tools already available to staff like zoom, learning management systems, and online chat – and did this quickly, removing layers of approvals and simplifying processes.

These leaders also see themselves partnering with other units within and outside of their institution more in the future. They also report that decisions about dorms, events, and schedules may be outside of the realm of the student affairs professional, and driven by state/local guidelines or other considerations, leaving them to feel caught in the middle.

Though they have unique views and needs, most campus leaders also shared three themes:

Adapting spaces for social distancing

Considering changes for the fall, adapting spaces for social distancing was an overwhelming concern. Quantitative guidelines for precisely how much distance should be used for retrofitting new building and furniture layouts are just emerging now and subject to ongoing revision. The stresses of meeting those guidelines will fall particularly hard on housing and dining facilities which traditionally rely on high density and shared fixtures.

Institutions need new norms for the new normal

In addition to changes in spaces, systems, and operations, new behavioral norms will be needed for testing, reporting symptoms, wearing masks, opting into tracking systems, off-campus activities, and much more. Once norms are defined, institutions must orient members of the campus community through communication and training, maintain norms and reinforcing protocols with consistent signage.

Leveraging the response to make more long-standing institutional changes, including:

  • Shifting to active learning in classrooms and moving large courses online.
  • Due to remote work which everyone notes is going surprisingly well, there will be less office space on campus and moving back-of-house functions like purchasing and facilities off campus.
  • Moving infrequently used books to storage off-site to free up library spaces for students.
  • Consolidating service points to make the experience seamless for students and more cost-effective for institutions.
  • Changing the schedule by offering more during summers, nights, and weekends to provide greater flexibility for students and better utilization of spaces.