University
Photos by Anouk Brekhof

Staffing an empty UB

‘We recognise the students who come in now’

Photos by Anouk Brekhof
These days, most students only go to the UB to pick up or drop off books. But how has the corona pandemic affected the daily work routine of the UB staff?
9 March om 14:35 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 9 March 2021
om 14:35 uur.
March 9 at 14:35 PM.
Last modified on March 9, 2021
at 14:35 PM.
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Door Sofia Strodt

9 March om 14:35 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 9 March 2021
om 14:35 uur.
Avatar photo

By Sofia Strodt

March 9 at 14:35 PM.
Last modified on March 9, 2021
at 14:35 PM.
Avatar photo

Sofia Strodt

Student-redacteur Volledig bio Student editor Full bio

Arjen Staal 

Every weekend, one of the employees working in internal services has to come to the UB to flush all the toilets – to prevent legionella bacteria from growing in the pipes – and to empty the box where students return their books. When Arjen Staal goes to the library on Sundays, he sometimes takes his daughter with him. ‘She likes to take her roller skates and go round and round the hall while I clear out the book box. The floor is perfect for roller skating’, he says. 

Staal has been at the front desk since 2015, answering students’ questions and helping with various issues. ‘There might be nothing going on one moment and two minutes later there will be water leaking somewhere.’ He’s even had to break up a fight once. ‘Two guys were arguing over a girl and one of them threw the other’s phone from the third floor. It broke, of course.’ 

Now, it’s so quiet in the building that he can hear people talking on the third floor from his desk. Because many employees can work from home, there are no more than ten members of staff in the UB. Staal still enjoys his job though, even though he’s getting tired of the current circumstances. ‘When it’s summer and we start at 6 a.m., I like to pick up a coffee and look out over the city from the roof terrace on the third floor. Sometimes you can see the sun coming up.’

Up until last week, the library only offered study spots to those students who really needed one, for example because they have severe concentration problems or don’t have the option to study at home. It’s a select group, ‘so at this point we recognise the students who come in’, says Staal. ‘That feels sort of cozy.’ 

Rob de Grooth

Even though, as team leader of the UB’s warehouse and printed collections, Rob de Grooth is not directly in touch with students, he still misses the hustle and bustle in the library.  ‘Normally, there’s always something to do and every day is different, but now it’s quiet’, he says. ‘At first it was strange, but you get used to it.’

De Grooth is in charge of processing the requests students and staff make to borrow books. Because the library is so much quieter now, he and his team work half days. Other than that, their daily tasks haven’t changed much because of the coronavirus: students and staff can still check out books like before.

One step has been added to the workflow, De Grooth says: returned books are now kept in big blue bags in a separate space for a while, to prevent the spread of the virus through surface contact.    

‘We’re the only team that still does all its work in the library. I’m proud that we can do our job and that they can’t do without us’, says De Grooth. ‘Some students will include a little note on the form they fill out when they want to borrow a book, thanking us for still being here, which is very nice.’ 

Danny van Lang

Keeping the UB and its 2,100 study spots clean is a big job on any regular day. ‘We’ll find lots of odd items including barbecues, alcohol, drugs, and sometimes even used condoms’, says Danny van Lang with EW Facility Services, which is in charge of cleaning the UB and the rest of the university buildings. 

Pre-covid, his team of sixteen cleaners would start at 6 a.m. to make sure that 80 percent of the areas are spic and span before the building opens at 8.30. They’d be in the building the whole day to take care of other tasks as well, such as taking out the garbage, cleaning toilets, or clearing up ‘spontaneous messes’, as Van Lang explains. 

But now that the UB is pretty much deserted, their routine has changed. ‘Normally it’s a big, big mess at the library every morning, but now that it’s easier for us, we have time to do some extra things’, says Van Lang. They’re deep cleaning the entire building from top to bottom and have even taken all the books off their shelves to wipe down the surfaces. That took them nine weeks. 

Constantly disinfecting surfaces and door handles is now also an integral part of their job, and Van Lang regularly confers with UG staff about things like walking directions inside the building, to ensure social distancing. ‘It’s a big difference’, he says. ‘Usually the UB is one of the busiest buildings in the city and there are lots of different things that happen throughout the day. But now the corridors and study rooms are pretty much empty. It feels strange.’

While the cleaners have fewer messes to clean up, Van Lang says that it does get lonely without the students. He and his team enjoy chatting with students every now and again. ‘Now, it’s just the same bubble of people.’

Ruud Grootoonk

As team leader of acquisitions and journal administration, Ruud Grootoonk is the link between book vendors and the UB. He makes reading material available to students and staff both via online catalogue SmartCat and in the library itself. Most of his team works from home, but one of them always has to be present in the UB to take receipt of the physical books and journals. ‘We get a whole pile every day, which has to be filed’, he explains. ‘It makes you feel special to be one of the only people who are still working here.’

Being separated from his colleagues has made him realise how important meaningful interaction in the real world is. He especially misses the informal small talk at the coffee machines that was a normal part of the day before covid. ‘It can be quite difficult to communicate with each other at times.’ 

Nevertheless, it’s not all bad news. ‘Before covid, we were very much stuck in our workflow. It was very hard to change anything, but then we had no choice and we’ve noticed that lots of things are working smoother than before’, Grootoonk says. For example, invoices used to be printed on paper and have now been digitised. 

Grootoonk has also observed that his colleagues have become more independent. They find solutions for problems on their own more often and they’ve taken on more tasks that weren’t exactly their expertise before. ‘I was just a cataloguer before, but now I also process invoices, for example. I feel like we have all learned new things and the work is getting done quicker than before.’

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