15 Jun 2021

Library Engagement and Information Services (EIS) at Maynooth University Library in a time of COVID

Guest Post by Edel King (MLIS from UCD, 2015). She currently works as a Library Assistant in the Engagement and Information Services Department in Maynooth University Library.

During the past year the Library EIS team have had to learn a lot of new ways of working. While this was challenging, it was also a great opportunity to learn, and it gave us time to get involved in library projects in a way that would not have been possible in normal times.


When Ireland went into lockdown in March of last year, the normal desk work that we do stopped. We worked from home on designated tasks given to us by senior management in the library, which allowed us time to develop new skills. 

One of the team, Linda O’Connell, wrote a reflective blog post on her career as she nears retirement. It was published on LibFocus (and can be read here) and gave us all great insights into our valued colleague. Bernie Mellon did some research on the Ogoni Nine (a group of men executed in 1995 for protesting the pollution of their homeland Ogoni, in Nigeria). This was in preparation for a book I am a Man of Peace: Writings Inspired by the Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Collection (which can be viewed here). Helen O’Connor wrote a blog on an Integration and Diversity event attended by library staff that was also published on LibFocus (here). I wrote a report on front desk innovations from around the world in the last five years. I learnt a lot about usability testing, seating mapping, wayfinding and other ways of getting feedback from the user on their library experience. 

We kept our users abreast of developments during the lockdowns on our website and social media channels

Working on site

When we went back on site in August last year, library staff were assigned to either a red or green team. Each team alternated between a week on site and a week working from home. 

It seemed for a while that every time we came back to campus after a week away, something had changed. Sometimes it was a new policy regarding students and opening, at other times a new way of doing something that had to be learned. Alongside all this my colleagues in Library IT Development had implemented a new Library Management System (LMS) called ALMA, and we had to get to know it. It was challenging at the time, but I think looking back, we all feel like it upped our skillset and our confidence in our ability to manage any challenge obstacle that came our way grew.

New Services

As the new academic year began library services were extended and we were exposed to many new challenges. This included managing chat and email from home, Click and Collect, Digital on Demand and facilitating laptop loans. Doing shifts of chat and email from home gave me the excuse to invest in new toys, namely a wireless keyboard and mouse – to protect my neck of course! 

My home workstation

Both the Click and Collect and Digital on Demand services have been very successful. These services began in March 2020 and a year later, we have satisfied nearly 4,000 Click and Collect requests and nearly 400 Digital on Demand requests

Once we began to have students back on site, they booked slots to come in in person. Initially for 2 hours, this was and later expanded to 3.5 hours. Keeping track of the various booking systems and check in apps kept us on our toes!

Project Work

Being in two teams meant that we had some available time in our week off campus. This allowed our manager to delegate projects for each team to do during their week at home. It was a great opportunity to catch up on projects that required time and concentration. We worked on two projects: one related to extreme overdues, the other related to renewals.

The overdues project involved dividing up a list of nearly 1600 overdue items between us, returning the items on ALMA, waiving the fines on the associated accounts and changing the item policy to WWithdrawn. This project gave us all a chance to gain valuable experience of using ALMA very thoroughly.

The overdues project looked at items checked out of the library years ago. By contrast, the renewals project looked at items on current students’ accounts. Owing to the varying COVID restrictions there have been issues with students coming to campus and returning items on their account. The purpose of this project was to alleviate the pressure on students to return their items by renewing the items and extending the due dates on them into the summer. 

Blog Posts and Exhibitions

Because the EIS team work full-time on the desk, we sometimes don’t have the same flexibility to attend events, as other library staff. Our new work pattern and the move to delivering courses via Teams and Zoom, afforded us new opportunities. A couple of us from the desk took part in an Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo) project. The result was published blog posts on LibFocus. The blogs were on developing resilience and Libraries of Sanctuary. We enjoyed having the opportunity to reflect and write.

I completed two sessions of Academic Writing Month, one in November and another in February. The group met once a week for one hour over a four-week period via Teams and progressed our writing. Myself and my colleague David Rinehart created and presented a poster on AcWriMo at the Irish Libraries: Living with Covid-19 seminar at Maynooth University in January (recordings from the seminar can be viewed here).

The poster myself and David created for the Irish Libraries: Living with Covid-19 seminar

One of my published blog posts for Academic Writing Month related to another project I worked on this year. For World Book Day in March, myself and two staff members from Special Collections & Archives, Adam Staunton and David Rinehart, were tasked with doing an exhibition using the Microsoft application Sway. It was on African Women Writers. 

One of the six themes of our Library Strategic Plan is Equality, Diversity & Interculturalism. A task under this theme is to, “ensure a diverse range of Library exhibitions and events that reflect both our increasingly diverse university community and national developments”. Organising this exhibition for World Book Day contributed to the action under this task.  

Image from the African Women Writers exhibition (image courtesy of Elaine Bean)

As both Adam and David are relatively new to the library, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to work with them on these projects and to have the chance to get to know them. We highlighted the exhibition on social media and got a retweet from one of the authors included and a comment from another. It was a great opportunity for the three of us to learn a new application and to introduce ourselves to some new writers. The three of us expanded the exhibition for Africa Day Ireland on May 25th. It’s great to be able to publicise the authors from the Global South in our collection.

Library Strategic Plan 2020-2023

Another member of the EIS team, Bridie O’Neill, had the opportunity to work in an administrative support capacity with the Library Strategic Plan Steering Group. This involved attending a training session on using Planner and subsequently inputting the various actions associated with tasks from the Strategic Plan to Planner. She had started working in the library just before lockdown and she told me that she thoroughly enjoyed being part of the collaboration and that the process really made her feel part of the library team. Other tasks delegated to my colleagues involved transcribing, maintaining a list of internal and external memberships and other ad hoc duties as required.

We were assigned tasks with regard to the Strategic Plan  

I was also able to assist in progressing another task in our Strategic Plan over the past year. Namely, “we will develop a core collection of current books relating to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)”. With input from the Maynooth University Equality Officer, I placed orders for a core collection of textbooks on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) to be purchased for the library. 


The members of the EIS team have had a very varied year. We have been challenged like never before. But we have embraced it all as well as all of the other opportunities that we have been afforded away from the desk. The pandemic has been a tough time for everyone, but it has also given myself and my colleagues at the desk a chance to push ourselves and do things we might not have had the opportunity to do otherwise. We gained in experience and skills, the Library benefited from the new tasks and projects we took on and it kept us busy during a very uncertain time.


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