How They Did It: Reopening at the University of Hull Library

Recent news and everyday events are showing us over and over again that this week’s plan may no longer be next week’s plan. This makes life… difficult. More than difficult! Especially for those directly in charge of not only keeping themselves and their loved ones healthy and safe but also hundreds or thousands of others as well.

While no two reopening plans will look the same, many of the folks we’re talking to are preparing for in-person services at some point in the future. And some have welcomed people back to the building already. For those still working through their plans or wondering how things are going for those who have opened, they have questions. We have questions! And since this feels like one of those situations where there are never too many (good) questions, we asked them.

An interview with the University of Hull Brynmor Jones Library

Starting in early July, the University of Hull Brynmor Jones Library has slowly been reopening its doors, starting with scheduled Click and Collect pickup services using LibCal Appointments. As they prepared for the fall semester, they needed a way to provide for in-person library visits. LibCal Seats arrived at just the right time, and they launched their Book a Seat service on July 27, 2020! Over the past few weeks, they’ve handled more than 2,000 reservations… so you could say they’re Seats experts by now. 😉

As one of the first institutions we knew that reopened their doors, and as one of our first customers to go live with Seats, we saw this as a good opportunity to check in with them and ask them to share their reopening process, hoping others would find it helpful as well. We sent them over a long list of questions, and they were so kind as to answer them for us! 😀 You can find their answers below – covering everything from space and seat setup to implementation to future expansion.

Preparing for their reopening

Libraries around the world are figuring out their reopening plans. Can you tell us a bit about yours? How often is your library allowing students in the building, and how many at a time?

Our entire team has been working remotely since the end of March, so we were excited to start planning our safe return to physical Library services for early July. Initially, we started with scheduled returns and ‘click and collect’ services using LibCal Appointments, which were fully booked [Springy edit: Spaces can be used for pickup, too!]. We were one of the first libraries to purchase the Seats extension on LibCal Spaces, and we have successfully launched our ‘book a seat’ service three weeks ago, again, fully booked. Now our returns and ‘click and collect’ services are available without appointments and during our opening hours. At the moment we are operating in our physical space Monday through Friday with reduced hours of 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.

It’s been essential for us to try and provide all our usual library services with as little disruption as possible to the customer experience while implementing measures to keep everyone safe. We decided to space all our bookable seats at least two meters apart, and this has allowed us to open our study spaces at 30% capacity. The Brynmor Jones Library is large, eight floors in all, so we’ve taken a cautious approach by initially opening up three floors. At the moment, that’s just over 100 customers, but this will more than double when we open up all floors to the Library at the start of the next semester.

People want to know — how did you organize your Seats and Spaces for your library? How long can students visit? Which booking restrictions did you enable in LibCal, if any? Why?

Our University’s Health & Safety Team walked our Library spaces with us and we had a discussion about what variety of spaces we needed accessible, and then we measured and mapped out how that would look. With our bookable seats available on three floors and in different rooms, we allocated a letter to each section of the floor and numbered each seat, including those that would not be initially bookable. This allows us to expand the number of bookable seats in the future, should distancing rules change. When students book a seat online, they can see a map of the space and understand where, for instance, B1 might be located. We printed large versions of the maps for our check-in desk at the Library entrance, which helps us to direct customers to their bookings.

To make the process easy for staff and customers we have limited each space to one booking per day, meaning the customer can book from 9:30 am-4:30 pm continuously, or any abbreviated time within. We achieved this by adding 6 hours of padding to each booking so no matter what time students book a seat, they get it for the day. We still let them choose an arrival time in the system so we know when to expect them. It has also enabled us to activate the auto-cancellation feature for Seats. This means that any customers who have not arrived and checked-in to their seat will have their reservation cancelled after 30 minutes. This will allow us to keep the Seats available and useable throughout the day. Having experienced the popularity of our ‘book a seat’ service, we will likely limit the number of times a customer can book in one calendar week and also implement two split bookings each day, with a cleaning of the space in-between.

Checking in, checking out, and social distancing

Are you enforcing Seats checking in and out? Using QR codes? How have you set up each seat/station so they can quickly find it?

We are using checking in for all of our seats and spaces. While we have put the QR codes on every desk, at this time our team is manually checking customers in. As the booking is for the entire day, there is currently no need to check out. Our team is creating a bite-size video about how to ‘book a seat’ and check-in using QR codes, ready for the start of the trimester. We’ll likely test this out a few weeks prior to make sure it works as expected.

How are you enforcing social distancing among students and staff? Are you using tape or barriers? Any clever library signage to share? We’d love to see pictures!

The entire Library has been kitted-out with directional signage, making it clear how to enter, exit and move about the floors safely. Hand sanitising units are installed in any space where you are entering, exiting or touching a door or equipment. Spaces that are not accessible are barriered or taped off (we’ve used a combination of both). To make things extra clear, we’ve removed chairs, keyboards and mice from the PCs that are not in use. The current plan is to use these cordoned-off PCs for student remote desktop access, enabling access to specialist software.

Our staff used to work on a roving support model, but have now been assigned to specific work stations or areas for their shift, so there is less moving around now. We have cleaning supplies at every station and staff are encouraged to wipe everything down at the start and end of their shift.

How have you implemented seat cleaning protocol? What workflows are in place so staff know students have arrived and left their seats?

We partnered with our University Cleaning Team to ensure the spaces are thoroughly cleaned before and after each customer uses them. As we move towards two-block bookings, members of the Cleaning Team will come during that lull to clean the spaces, ready for the next customer.

What’s the one Seats feature you’ve found most helpful? Why?

They’re all so helpful! But specifically, I think the auto-cancellation feature will be a massive help for us. As this automatically re-opens a seat for booking if a user does not show up and check it, it will help us make use of every bookable study seat for the majority of our opening hours.

We are just so pleased Seats came along at the right time for us to help quickly and safely provide bookable study spaces to our customers.

Not everyone has opened their doors yet, and they may be reopening soon. They’d like to know, how are things going? What’s working well so far and where have you made adjustments since opening? How has Seats helped with managing and monitoring library activity?

Things are going really well and this is all due to our Customer Experience Team who have been part of the planning for returning physical services to our Library. We are reviewing all our services again before the start of the next semester to see how we can make things safer and easier to manage. This group is also focused on helping us better understand both our customers and our team. I think we all have settled into a routine now with our returns, ‘click and collect’ and ‘book a seat’ services, and we’re now looking at how we can layer on walk-in use of our printers and face-to-face appointments for Library support. This is already on top of our live chat, email support portal, and collections services, many of which we continue to provide remotely. We are just so pleased Seats came along at the right time for us to help quickly and safely provide bookable study spaces to our customers.

Expanding building availability & future plans

Looking at your LibCal site, I see that you’re planning for the future – your inactive 3rd-6th floors are already added! Can you let us know what your plans are for those floors and how you’re going to make them active over time? What factored into your decision?

As soon as we signed-up for Seats we undertook a full building audit and realised we could offer around 250 desk-based seats while facilitating 2m social distancing. As we’ve opened up over the summer period, which is quieter, we decided to launch approximately 80 seats on our first three floors. This allowed us to trial our new service, made it easier for our staff to manage and ensured we had sufficient cleaning in place. The system was so popular we made another 30 seats available within our second week. As we approach semester time, we are working to onboard the rest of our seats in the building. As things progress, we will re-open our study rooms for booking (through spaces) and further investigate the possibility of making our non-desk based seating (armchairs, sofas and so on) available.

The system was so popular we made another 30 seats available within our second week.

We’ve been working with a large range of library sizes — and even non-library folks, like IT departments — looking to implement a campus-wide solution. Was your meeting with the University’s Health & Safety Team part of a larger coordinated effort? How did the library work with, and will continue to work with, the larger university system on reopening plans and how Seats fits into this strategy?

Our University Library is a much-loved space on our campus, and it was one of our University’s number one priorities for facilitating in-person access. The University has a Covid Response Team who are driving the good work behind the wider reopening plans on campus. Health & Safety participate in this discussion and decision making. They are currently in the process of reviewing all areas of the campus to make decisions on how each space can adapt and safety open to our team and customers. We were one of the first buildings to reopen on campus, and the efforts are still taking place with other spaces. Our Health & Safety advisors listened carefully to what we wanted to achieve and helped us build safe systems around those services.

We are certainly going to be looking at how we can use Seats to its full capacity within the Library and I imagine we’ll be sharing the merits of this system with our colleagues across the University as planning progresses.


Many thanks to Rachel Welch, Lee Fallin, and Lisa Bolt for providing an in-depth look into their reopening process and how visits are going! We hope things continue to go smoothly for them and their students (and please share your Book a Seat video with us once it’s complete — we all want to see it 😀 )!

To check out their Spaces and Seats site in action, head to: https://libcal.hull.ac.uk/r. You can also learn more about their Book a Seat program by heading to their library website.

For more general information about Seats, take a look at our webinar and get in touch from our LibCal Buzz guide. If you have any questions, please drop us a line!

One comment

  1. Hi Laura,

    I’m writing from Gwinnett Technical College in Lawrenceville, Georgia. We went live with LibCal Seats in late July, just in time for our Fall semester, which began on August 10th. I enjoyed reading about Hull’s re-opening. If you are interested in our experience we’d be happy to share our story!
    Thank you!

    Deborah George
    Director of Library Services
    Gwinnett Technical College
    dgeorge@gwinnetttech.edu
    678-226-6650

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