Pitt library employees urge administrators to fully shut down facilities


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Employees of Pitt’s University Library System said they have requested that the University temporarily close Pitt’s libraries.

By Jon Moss, News Editor

Employees of Pitt’s University Library System said they have repeatedly asked both the library and University administration in recent days to temporarily shutter the system in the wake of the global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, citing health concerns.

The library system is one set of several facilities currently operating on a reduced basis — beginning Monday, the Hillman Library would remain open only to University students, faculty and staff. The library system is headed by director Kornelia Tancheva, but the ultimate decision to close ULS resides with Provost Ann Cudd.

Several libraries in the Pittsburgh area, including the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh location across Schenley Plaza from Hillman Library, announced they would close due to the pandemic. Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all nonessential business and government offices to close statewide for two weeks starting Tuesday at 12:01 a.m.

A library employee, who asked to remain anonymous due to fears of retaliation, said employees do not currently feel safe coming to work in the libraries or implicitly designating the libraries as a place for Pitt community members to congregate. President Donald Trump urged Americans at a Monday afternoon press conference to not gather in groups of more than 10 people.

“We shouldn’t be encouraging people to gather,” the employee said. “Restricting access to people with IDs is silly because there’s nothing that would say that people with Pitt IDs are less likely to have the virus.”

The employee added that it is very difficult to keep the myriad of shared surfaces in libraries, from front desks to shared computers, clean and safe for community members and staff.

University spokesperson Kevin Zwick said in an email that Hillman Library has “sufficient” space to allow for proper social distancing.

“At this time, we can safely keep this important facility open for those students who remain on campus,” Zwick said. “That said, we are continually monitoring events and can adjust our operations as new information becomes available.”

He added that supervisors have been asked to provide maximal flexibility in accommodating remote arrangements for staff with assignments and circumstances that allow for remote work.

Another employee, who also requested anonymity due to fears of retaliation, said library staff are not usually classified as essential or emergency staff and the facilities must be closed to properly protect employees.

“We’re all trying to be really flexible and figure out how to support our faculty and students and staff on campus, but also protect the health of our library workers,” the employee said. “The library management gets that. I really hope the provost and the rest of the University leadership can come to an understanding of how important that is.”