Latest service and space updates: VCU Libraries COVID-19 response

VCU Libraries prepares to reopen buildings in late summer

July 13, 2020
A collage by Jeff Bland of James Branch Cabell and Tompkins-McCaw with focus lines and a couple flying books in the background.
Collage by Jeff Bland

Almost from the day VCU closed because of the COVID-19 virus, a team of VCU Libraries employees has been making plans for reopening. This lengthy and detailed planning process has included hours of research, meetings and discussions about the health and safety of library users and collections. The team has identified best practices based on directives from the university and the commonwealth and developed protocols and procedures to help keep users safe while meeting their needs for research materials, technology and expertise from librarians.

"While some decisions have yet to be finalized, we're ready to share an overview of our current plans for restoring on-site services and reopening our buildings," said Laura W. Gariepy, Ph.D., who is leading VCU Libraries' reopening work group. Gariepy is associate dean for research and learning. "Additional details and specific dates will be announced as soon as possible."

Buildings and Services

VCU Libraries plans to limit building occupancy and to require physical distancing and to strengthen cleaning and disinfecting protocols. Reopening plans may change because of the need to procure cleaning supplies and other items necessary for reopening.

Enhanced Services Give Access to the Physical Collection

While library buildings remain closed, users can now access the physical collection. Details

  • Effective July 6, VCU students, faculty and staff can request books and media for checkout through the VCU Libraries website. Users can then use the new Front Door Pickup service to receive these borrowed items. Or, materials can be delivered to faculty, staff and students at their on-campus office or to their preferred address at no charge.
  • Electronic delivery of scanned copies of items and shipping of books and media from the VCU Libraries physical collection also returned July 6.
  • Because returned materials will be quarantined for three days before circulating again, students' access to items placed on physical course reserve may be limited. Faculty and staff are urged to consult with Open Educational Resources Librarian Jessica Kirschner ( to find electronic or open access alternatives for some course reserve materials. For more information about course reserves

Details About Reopening Buildings

  • When reopened, the Cabell and Tompkins-McCaw buildings may be limited to VCUCard holders only in order to give priority to university users.
  • Face coverings will be required in library buildings.
  • Spaces within the buildings will look different. Some furniture will be removed or roped off to create six feet of space between users.
  • 60 to 75 percent of the public desktop computers will not be available in order to provide distancing.
  • Because many public computers will be out of service to arrange physical distancing, users are encouraged to bring their own laptops when possible.
  • Most research consultations and librarian-led instruction sessions will be conducted remotely—by Zoom, chat, phone or email—to minimize face-to-face contact.
  • VCU will increase cleaning and disinfecting of library spaces and equipment and high-use items such as door handles, keyboards, handrails and bathrooms.
  • Hand sanitizing dispensers, sanitizing wipes and accompanying disposal receptacles will be available throughout both libraries.
  • VCU and VCU Libraries will provide disinfecting supplies for users, who will be expected to wipe down their work areas and public keyboards before and after use.
  • The lactation rooms in both libraries will remain open; but no pumping equipment will be provided; and the refrigerator will not be available.
  • Most study rooms will be available for reservation, but often at a reduced capacity. Some will be closed. Rooms will be available for reservation on the VCU Libraries website.
  • No public events will be held in library buildings during the fall semester.
  • Starbucks and the IT Support Center in Cabell Library are expected to reopen when the building does or very shortly thereafter. Both will implement measures to prevent germ spread.

In addition, the Workshop is exploring how to make its high-end computers available to remote users. Most student, faculty and staff personal computers don't have the rendering power to complete projects like 4K video editing, GIS computations, 3D modeling, data visualizations, virtual environments and other complex work. The same service will be available through the MCV Campus library.

The libraries are also considering ways to safely loan and clean returned equipment items and make studio spaces available. Announcements about whether and when the physical makerspaces on both campuses will reopen will be made in August.

Discussions are underway about how to make Special Collections and Archives materials accessible to researchers this fall. An announcement will be made in early August. In the meantime, requests for research support, consultations and instruction should be directed to (804) 828-1108 or for Cabell Library and (804) 828-9898 or for Tompkins-McCaw Library.

Online and Remote Services

VCU Libraries continues offering robust online services. These services include:

  • Research consultations
  • Librarian-led instruction
  • Consultations about creative technologies with Innovative Media experts
  • Information assistance through chat, text, email and phone
  • Vast collections including ebooks, online journals and articles (including some requested from other libraries) and streaming media

Planning Continues 

As would be expected of a team of library employees, the first step the work group took when they began to develop reopening plans was to research the issues. They examined how other libraries and museums were approaching reopening after COVID-19 closings, best practices in cleaning shared equipment and public spaces, choosing the safest way to handle returned books and equipment and analyzing square footage estimates per person to ensure physical distance and increased safety.

Every decision made regarding reopening is based on the best knowledge available and on guidelines from reputable sources. For instance, according to Preservation Librarian Nora Bloch: "Based on our research, circulating books are a very low-risk category in terms of the virus's survival on surfaces. But in an abundance of caution, we will quarantine all items returned for three days before they can be checked out again. We may see this number of days decrease as more research comes out."

The libraries' reopening work group is meeting regularly and working through the many issues related to operating more than 400,000 square feet of space and serving thousands of users and will continue to prioritize the safety of library users and employees.

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