U of M libraries move to online service took decades – and met both utopian and dystopian needs

The University Library buildings are closed. They closed after the March 17 (2020) announcement that the campus was closing to protect students from coronavirus and they closed quickly. But they were prepared, as the University of MN Libraries newsletter notes…

By February 2020, estimates John Butler, Associate University Librarian for Data & Technology, 65-70% of Libraries’ activities could be accomplished remotely. Then came the March 17 announcement that the U of M was closing library buildings and suddenly the Libraries’ staff and services were 100% in a remote working environment.

Even though some experienced stress — calendars filled with Zoom meetings, and librarians quickly responded to requests for online resources and e-materials — this transition was not a calamity. Indeed, the Libraries have been preparing for these changes for two decades, largely because Butler and others were aiming for a different goal: equity among learners.

The last line is key – their goal was equity among learners…

“It didn’t happen overnight,” Butler says of the infrastructure needed to transition Libraries online. “We’ve been moving toward this for years.”

In the current pandemic situation, one might assume Butler foresaw a dystopian future but, he says, he was “more on the utopian side. … It was all about equality of access.”

The article goes on with details on how it happened and why. It’s interesting and worth the read but the point I think easily transfers to broadband is that it doesn’t happen overnight and it levels the playing field.

Regular readers may remember that I was a librarian. We’re planners. We’re cautious. We plan for the worst (dystopia) and hope for the best (utopia). We can do both.

Earlier today I wrote about Tom Friedman’s idea for investment in broadband (and other things) to recover from coronavirus. And I’ve mentioned a few times that while the State and Feds are spending billions of dollars to meet very short term (and very important) needs, investment in broadband would meet short and long term goals. We’d need fewer masks if more people could over groceries at home. And in the long term, a family with broadband sees an economic boost of $1850 per year. Win, win!

Maybe now can be the time we realize that rural Minnesota needs broadband to survive now and thrive in the future – deploying that infrastructure could be the coronavirus silver lining and help us prepare for the best and worst.

This entry was posted in education, MN, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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