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Message from the Dean: Reopening the Library after the Apocalypse

eNews Edition: Fall 2021

After every natural disaster or pandemic there must be a transitional time of returning to “normal life.” When the 1994 Northridge earthquake occurred, it took years for the campus to recover, and I see the COVID-19 pandemic as being similar in some ways to the devastation wrought by a major earthquake. The 1994 earthquake lasted less than a minute, but its effects were felt for years afterward. The COVID-19 pandemic has been with us for 18 months, but just like the earthquake, we will be experiencing “aftershocks” for the indefinite future.

In another article in this edition of the Library eNews, Associate Dean Kathy Dabbour writes about the tangible effects of the full Library reopening (which took place on August 30, 2021), including the importance of quiet study space for student success, the need to rebuild a sense of community on campus, group study availability, borrowing physical materials, and many other facets of our building’s reopening. It has been thrilling for me to walk through the University Library and observe the hundreds of CSUN students, who every day are taking advantage of this critical campus resource that was physically closed for over a year. Almost every resource that was available pre-pandemic is again accessible to all CSUN students, faculty and staff. I do not think that the value of the Library’s physical building can be underestimated, with all of its nooks, crannies, study rooms, computers, and quiet spaces; with browsable access to the book stacks again reinstated; and with face-to-face communication with Library staff and faculty again restored.

Dean Mark Stover
University Library Dean Mark Stover

But there are still some differences that remind us that we are not living in the world of 2019 anymore. To ensure health and safety, access to the Library’s entrance is monitored and each person who comes to the Library is asked to provide certain information before entering the building. The Library’s Freudian Sip coffee shop is closed this semester, as is the Gohstand Reading Room and the Library Exhibit Gallery. The Creative Media Studio and Special Collections & Archives are open by appointment only. Many library staff and faculty continue to work a hybrid schedule. Life is not back to normal yet.

But these changes are temporary. We anticipate that most of the limitations mentioned above will be lifted by the spring semester 2022, if health and safety protocols permit us to do so. I can only speak for myself when it comes to my own emotional response to reopening, but the thought of “returning to normal” brings joy to my heart and the removal of the darkness from a locked and empty building which formerly was bustling with palpable energy. I sense that we have finally arrived at that place of renewal, and by 2022 I hope that we can say that we have completed our journey to normalcy.

But the fact remains that we will never be the same again. The pandemic has affected all of us, in large ways but also in quiet moments. We at CSUN have learned many valuable lessons along the way that we will do well to remember, one of the most important being that we are a resilient university that can meet any challenge. The Library is a good example of this resiliency, in the ways that we continued to serve our students and meet their needs in the moment, and in the ways that we overcame the challenges of a worldwide pandemic and continued to grow, stretch, and improve. The Library’s services, staff, faculty, and resources are “sustainable” even in the face of a global event many of us never imagined could happen.

The great Irish poet W. B. Yeats composed his poem “The Second Coming” in the wake of multiple apocalyptic events including the 1918 influenza pandemic during which his wife nearly died. Yeats wrote that “things fall apart,” that “the center cannot hold,” and that “mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” I must admit that there were days during the COVID-19 pandemic when it seemed like Yeats’ imagery had come to life in the 21st century. Darkness, it seemed, had come across the land, and the “rough beast” was slouching toward an apocalyptic destination. But that is not the ending we appear to be destined to experience at CSUN. The University Library is already dispelling the gloom of the past 18 months and entering into a new era. We are welcoming students into our “home” with light and warmth. We are building on the strengths that we have been honing for many years. The Library’s digital resources and virtual services are once again reunited with our physical and tangible assets. Unlike Yeats, we can be optimistic about the future. Things did not fall apart. The center has indeed held.