‘Pent-Up Demand’: Inside the Colorado College library during COVID-19

Plus, one of our correspondents becomes a certified contact tracer

Good morning, and happy Thursday. On this pre-pandemic date last year, Colorado College students, families, and alumni in Cleveland, Ohio were hosting a “CC Summer Welcome Party” for the class of 2023. Imagine how that might look today (SPOILER: x ←six feet→ x).

Today, we catch up with CC Tutt Library’s interim director, Steve Lawson, about transitioning into his role during the pandemic, and we learn how the library staff stays safe while still providing materials. As a bonus today, we’ll also describe what it’s like to become a COVID-19 contact tracer. Because one of us did it. For journalism. 

➡️ICYMI: Yesterday, we spoke with two El Paso County Public Health officials about health equity and messaging efforts. We also explained the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs’ decision to end their agreement with the Springs local bus line, and revisited the aerosol theory.

Colorado College Tutt Library: Amid COVID-19 concerns, faculty and staff are checking out books again

On Tuesday, The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project connected over Zoom with interim library director Steve Lawson to talk about who is coming in and out of the library right now, what safety measures staff are implementing as book-borrowing resumes, and what the library is doing in preparation for fall.

⏰ What a current work day looks like for Tutt Library staff

As Lawson tries to figure out how to be a library director, particularly under these circumstances, work these days has been, in a word, “unusual.” 

Former library director JoAnn Jacoby transitioned out in April, and as the college began the search for a permanent hire, Lawson stepped into the role in the meantime. “So,” Lawson says, “I started being library director right in the middle of all this with COVID-19 and everybody at home.”

A typical workday for Lawson right now involves a lot of Zoom calls and meetings, emails, and other correspondence with faculty and library workers. With Colorado College still encouraging people to work from home until Aug. 1, library staff is doing as much remote work as possible, with some coming in intermittently for tasks that can’t be done over Zoom. For example, Lawson says Circulation Services Coordinator Meg Remple comes in three times a week to check out and return books; in Special Collections, Archivist and Curator Jessy Randall and Assistant Curator Amy Brooks come in for four to eight hours a week to process some collections; someone comes in to make sure mail and invoices don’t pile up; and someone comes in once or twice a week to work on Interlibrary Loans, a partnership allowing people to access materials available from other document delivery services and libraries but not their own. 

📚 Book-borrowing resumes for Colorado College faculty and staff 

Colorado College faculty and staff were able to check out books again beginning Monday, and Lawson says they’ve already checked out 83 books.   

“Most of them asked for more than one,” Lawson says. “So we had — as I was kind of anticipating — some pent-up demand.”

Each Monday, Remple pulls the requested books, checks them out, and places them near the east doorway. Instead of putting them next to each other, she sets books individually on carts so the correct person can grab their books without touching anything else. The space is closed on Mondays, but faculty and staff can pick up their books every other day of the week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. When they return the books, library staff leaves them in the book return for a week or so before reshelving them so any potential viruses on the books will die off.

👨🏻‍💻 How library staff supported distance-learning efforts

During the transition to distance-learning Blocks 7 and 8, “liaison librarians” reached out to their assigned academic departments to assist classes. For some liaisons, that assistance took the form of helping professors find online texts and media to use in classes, and for others, they attended a Zoom class to explain what sort of resources the library has to offer.

The pivot to online learning required more online resources, and library staff was able to locate free materials online, or purchase access to some materials they did not already have, including texts and streaming movies. Despite these needs, Lawson says the library didn’t take a budget hit.

“We probably bought a little bit more than we normally would in that time of year,” he says, “but it might have been offset by not buying as much in paper.”

😷 Library staff prepares for eventual return to campus  

Lawson is a member of the campus “Prevention Committee,” which will have its first meeting Friday and is headed by Brian Young, Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Technology Officer.

“It’s about all the things that we’re going to need for the campus in terms of masks and hand sanitizer,” Lawson says. “And I think also it’s going to include the more social stuff ... how we behave and how we deal with the spaces and surfaces and things like that.”

Lawson has also asked members of the library staff to volunteer for a 5 to 7-member health and safety group that will look at best practices from other libraries and work to implement social distancing guidelines. Some things they might consider are ways to ensure everyone in the library wears a mask and keeps the furniture appropriately distanced. They are also communicating with Facilities about installing plexiglass barriers in areas like the circulation desk. Lawson also wants the group to act as a resource for people who might feel unsafe, whether it be an employee or student. 

“That can be really important for staff to feel like if they’re asked to do something they’re not comfortable with, to have something to go to, but I think students are going to need that too,” Lawson says.

One of us took an online course on contact-tracing. Here’s what we learned

Curious as to what it might entail, and wondering if it might be useful training to have in the not-too-distant future, a member of The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project took a free online course in contact tracing — and passed the final exam this weekend. 

John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health created the course, but it’s available for anyone to take online at Coursera, a platform offering a large database of courses for a small or no fee. 

Over 396,400 people have already enrolled in this introductory course to COVID-19 contact tracing, which is available in four languages. It takes around five hours to complete, after which the participant will receive a shiny new online certificate advertising their new skill. To become a contact tracer in New York, you would first need to pass this very course. 

“The COVID-19 crisis has created an unprecedented need for contact tracing across the country, requiring thousands of people to learn key skills quickly,” the course description reads. 

Though the course did not contain any new or particularly startling revelations, it does run people through how to communicate effectively as a contact-tracer, and how to build rapport with contacts. It also clarified the difference between certain terms you’ve probably heard a lot these days. For example, “isolation” is when “cases,” or people who have COVID-19, attempt to separate themselves from other members of a household and the outside world for a minimum of 10 days while they are infectious. “Quarantine,” on the other hand, is what contacts who might have been exposed to COVID-19 do for a minimum of two weeks before they might develop symptoms. 

The course takes the participant through these basics steps of COVID-19 contact-tracing:

  1. Call a COVID-19 case and introduce yourself.

  2. Ask questions to determine when they were infectious.

  3. Ask who they might have been in close contact with during that period.

  4. Give instructions for isolating, and identify any barriers to isolation.

  5. Call the identified contacts and explain how they might have been exposed to COVID-19. Give them instructions for quarantining. (The course gives a rudimentary script for these calls, in addition to providing examples of some basic calls with cases and contacts.)

  6. Check in regularly with the case and their contacts, until the isolation or quarantine ends.

The course also runs you through the ethics of contact-tracing. What about a person’s right to privacy? How do you balance their right to privacy with the need to contact-trace as a public good?

The answer:

“There is a legal basis for contact tracing in the United States, because there is an authority to conduct public health interventions and individual state constitutions, and the US Constitution,” Emily Gurley, the lead instructor of the course, says in one of the lectures. “There are clauses that say that states and the US government can act to protect the public welfare.” 

As higher-ed institutions work to reopen their campuses for the fall, how to contact-trace on a college campus has become a central part of the conversation. This probably won’t be the last time we talk about contact tracing in the higher-ed context this summer, so give the course a look.

About the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project

The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project is a student-faculty collaboration by Colorado College student journalists Miriam Brown and Arielle Gordon,, Visiting Assistant Professor of Journalism Corey Hutchins, Assistant Professor of English Najnin Islam, and Journalism Institute Director Steven Hayward. Work by Phoebe Lostroh, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at CC and National Science Foundation Program Director in Genetic Mechanisms, Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, will appear from time to time, as will infographics by Colorado College students Rana Abdu, Aleesa Chua, Sara Dixon, Jia Mei, and Lindsey Smith.

The project seeks to provide frequent updates about CC and other higher education institutions during the pandemic by providing original reporting, analysis, interviews with campus leaders, and context about what state and national headlines mean for the CC community. 

📬 Enter your email address to subscribe and get the newsletter in your inbox each time it comes out. You can reach us with questions, feedback, or news tips by emailing ccreportingproject@gmail.com.