Third Virtual Networking Event Explores Staff and Student Experiences at a Distance

Gaz J Johnson

The power of silence, the challenge of reopening and the opportunities of the new normal all come up for discussion in the third virtual networking event!

The third in the series of virtual networking events took place on Wednesday 29th July, and once again provoked 90 minutes of informative, enlightening and lively debate between delegates. Once again participants, drawn from the various members of the Collaboration, had a lot to share. This time much of this focussed on their experiences during their time working from home but was also concerned with looking ahead to reopening academic libraries over the coming months.

The event was hosted by the Collaboration’s own Dr Gareth J Johnson and Laura Waller of Warwick University, Chair of the Mercian Disability Forum. Nominally the topics of ‘effective remote support for learners’ and ‘lockdown library practicalities’ were the outline themes. However, as in previous events, participants were able to steer the conversation in any direction or towards any topic they desired, in an atmosphere of informal collegiality and conviviality.

Topics covered this time included:

Library Staff: Exploring the new and evolving team arrangements adapting to recent events and changed working situations had required. Alongside this, delegates shared the highs and lows of working from home, alongside considerations of how this may re-shape future ‘on site’ expectations by them and their colleagues.

New Practices: There was much related discussion which explored the new ways of working recently encountered, especially reacting to changing goal posts and an uncertain broader environment. Delegates were shared how they were preparing to meet both the known and unknown unknowns alike during the coming academic year.

Impacts & Benefits: Under this heading delegates discussed everything, from feelings of overwork and capacity, through to the unexpected benefits of delivering skills sessions in smaller, digestible chunks rather than monolithic blocks. A crisis has become for some, a welcome opportunity to rethink, re-evaluate and re-explore how and what they do to support staff, students and colleagues alike.

Student Experience: While delegates were keen to share their own experiences, they were also mindful of their various encounters and engagements with their student body, as they supported and supplied them at a distance. Alongside these practical aspects, participants also talked about the changing expectations and trepidations they had heard from students, concerning their studies and library support.

Stock & Supply: Libraries facilitate access to stock, both physical and digital, at the core of their operational remit. The relatively recent troubles for Dawson Books would have been a challenge at any time, but during a time of lockdown and remote working for many delegates had been an even greater problem. Alongside this issues around the safe issuing, delivery and return of books were ones that delegates were keen to share (IMLS, 2020). Increasingly though, while it may not have been ‘business as usual’, ‘click and collect’ services were increasingly becoming an area of staff experience that had become well-developed.

Reopened Services: Delegates were also keen to talk about the challenges, opportunities and practical aspects of reopening their physical stacks, study spaces and staff offices. For some, this was something yet some ways off, while for others, it was something they were currently tackling. Hence, there was a lot to learn, share and consider: from mask etiquette, to socialising and toilet pragmatics, and everything in between. Notably, for some participants, academic year 20/21 was already underway with courses starting over the summer.

Ambiance: One interesting thread to emerge in discussions concerned how some students had been missing the ‘library ambiance’ in their studying lives (Flood, 2020). The same was said to be true of some staff as well, who found home working without the background of their colleagues challenging to delivering their ‘best’. To help, one delegate shared her experiences of various websites and resources which could help people recreate the aural experience of working within a well-managed library environment (Winter Whale ASMR, 2020a&b; Familijen STHLM, 2020).


This was once again a busy and highly discursive event, filled with insights, revelations and occasional laughter. Feedback was uniformly positive again, and much encouragement was made towards hosting future events after the summer. Hence, keep an eye on the Mercian Collaborations event pages for news of our planned October 2020 event – date TBC!

Alternatively, if you would like a email notifying you when the next virtual networking event opens for booking, contact the Collaboration’s Officer via email.


Familijen STHLM, 2020. The Sound of Colleagues. [Website].

Flood, A., 2020. The sound of silence: visiting the library during lockdown. The Guardian, 7th May.

IMLS, 2020. Research Shows Virus Undetectable on Five Highly Circulated Library Materials After Three Days. Institute of Museum and Library Services, 22nd June.

Winter Whale ASMR, 2020. 24/7 Library in Forest on a Rainy Day / Library Ambient Sounds. [Video].

Winter Whale ASMR, 2020. Library Ambience Sounds for Studying / Relaxing Library #237. [Video].