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Wednesday, 21 October 2020

To Mask or Not


by Ashika Pramlal

Like most Academic Libraries UKZN Library has been offering virtual service with staff working from home and providing an online service to the university community. Returning to work in September was a surreal experience. The transition of working from home and then going to the physical workspace was somewhat unsettling. Having adapted to Zoom and Microsoft Teams and working with online solutions, it was difficult to go back to a physical work environment.

There was the UKZN Health Screening App, showing the permit to enter campus and the compulsory wearing of masks. There was an unsettling quieteness with no smiling students and no colleagues which made me want to run and go back home. The library at Westville was gloomy and empty with just security and cleaning staff. At this stage, only staff and postgraduate students were being allowed access to the Research Commons according to Lockdown level 1 regulation.  Other sections of the library service were not available. I was the only Subject Librarian on duty at Westville.

Going to the Research Commons and seeing the place without a single student and a buzz was surprising as it is a hotspot of popularity. Arrangements were made to clean the space and have it ready for students. The day passed by with me doing hourly checks on the Research Commons, viewing the register for students, and checking in with security. Many undergraduate students wanted to use the library,  however, security informed them that only postgraduate students could access the Research Commons.   It was a busy day with my having to continually check in on the Research Commons and confirm with security about the register of students. When it was time to close, I was glad as it had been quite a challenging first day back to campus.

The next week I returned to work as the library was now officially opened as of 5 October 2020 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for all levels of students and staff from 9H00 to 15H00. It was a welcome sight to see students sanitizing their hands at the sanitizing stations located on level 4, level 7, and level 9 of the library. It was awesome to see another subject librarian colleague on duty for the day.

The atmosphere was a lot lighter, however there was red tape across many areas of the library prohibiting entry to students. This was done so that students could only access level 3 of the Westville Campus Library and level 9 of the Research Commons.. The day went by and some postgraduate students were using the Research Commons. Students could not access the print collection but had to make arrangements to use Library Services during level 1 lockdown.

Having to deal with a new set of working rules amid a pandemic took some adjustment.  Covid-19 changed our lives, the workplace, and the world. Living in a new world and having to deal with a global pandemic has taught us the value of life, family, friends, and colleagues and to never take life for granted, but rather to embrace and live each day with joy and abandon. We have just one life and it is up to us to enjoy and celebrate our existence on the planet. 

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