Students studying (with masks)

This fall, Hodges Library remains open to students, faculty and staff on campus. As one of the most trafficked buildings on Rocky Top, it’s difficult to imagine a semester without it.

The countless resources that the library provides are essential to most students’ studies, and lack of access to those resources could mean a difficult semester for some. Thankfully, the university and staff have worked diligently to make the library both safe and accessible amid the pandemic.

Most students have had the incomparable experience of spending most or all of the night in Hodges before. During COVID-19, however, this won’t be possible. Hodges will now be open Sunday through Friday between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Their Saturday hours are from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Ingrid Ruffin, associate professor and head of the Learning Commons, answered some questions from students on other ways Hodges may look different from previous semesters.

When asked about the areas of Hodges that are open to students, Ruffin said, “The library’s public services desks, the Commons and the studio workstations are open to students. Many of our study rooms are open as well with adjusted capacities.”

As for tutoring services, Ruffin said, “Many of our academic support services such as the Math Place and the Herbert Writing Center are now online, but the Academic Success Center still maintains some academic support and tutoring in Hodges.”

All quiet/group study floors are open, with the study areas socially distanced. The same is true for the work stations in Commons North and South. In fact, the only rooms that are completely closed to use are the virtual reality room, video production room, whisper room and sound rooms in the studio.

Some students may be familiar with the Daily Self Screening form that is required by all campus employees before they arrive at work each day. This form walks users through a health screening process and decides whether users are clear to come on campus based on their answers.

Ruffin cited other provisions for Hodges staff, including, “... plexiglas partitions at all open service desks and (we) are providing masks, gloves and hand sanitizer for all staff. We provide the minimum staffing each day in Hodges to keep the building, services, and collections open to the UT community.”

“By limiting the amount of staff in the building at any given time, we are reducing potential exposure for people in our spaces. We have also made work from home provisions for our most vulnerable employees in order to provide online support and services for students, staff and faculty.”

Changes that may negatively affect students are few and far between. One factor that could pose problems for study groups is occupancy.

Sarah Johnson, Commons librarian, said, “... study rooms are open, but at a reduced occupancy. For example, a room that could traditionally hold five or more might only hold two people.”

Students who like to snack and study will not have that luxury this fall, as masks are required at all times. As of now, students are also not allowed to eat in the building at all, including the café area. All food and drink in Hodges are take-out only.

Also, according to an announcement made Sept. 11, students are also not allowed to remove their face masks while in the library, or they will be asked to leave the building.

These new guidelines, while thorough, must be followed to be effective.

When asked if the student body had been “mostly receptive” to the required provisions, Ruffin said, “Many students have graciously complied with university rules — such as wearing face masks — that have allowed us to return to in-person learning this fall. But some have found it challenging to support the health and safety measures put in place.”

“We empathize with those students who are having a hard time changing their behavior. But, if we are to continue providing the highest level of library services and support for our scholars’ needs, all members of our Volunteer community must do their part,” Ruffin said.

Whether or not students are present on campus, it’s clear that this truly is the “Volunteer” semester. If you find yourself in Hodges this fall, consider the impact that collective participation could have by following these provisions, not only on the spring semester, but on the UT community.

This article has been updated to include additional information.

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