Yarra Plenty Regional Library Staff Sharepoint 2020

Managing a Library Service in a Crisis Part 3- The Staff

Jane Cowell
5 min readJul 6, 2021


COVID-19 is a continuing crisis for libraries globally to adjust to. For Yarra Plenty Regional Library (YPRL), a Corporation delivering library services to 3 member councils in Northeast Metro Melbourne, Victoria Australia our response was quick, adaptive and responsible. Our’s is an independent organisation and we had to face this crisis using our own resources — both people and technology — without a larger government organisation to support us. Our decision making and response was grouped under 4 headings: Governance (see Part 1); Communication (see Part 2); The Staff (this post); and The Work (see Part 4).

From the beginning of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, YPRL’s first consideration in planning and responding to the pandemic was the health and safety of staff and other people in our libraries. This guided all our decisions. Our leadership team also agreed to follow the advice and recommendations from the state and federal governments. So our COVID-19 plans, our risk plans, our return to worksite plans and eventual staff work permits were drawn up following government required guidelines. All staff were provided with the required Personel Protective Equipment when worksites were again open for staff. This included perspex screening, gloves, masks and hand sanitiser.

The Staff — meaningfully employed

At YPRL we maintained full employment for all permanent and part-time employees. But their jobs and tasks did change. We asked staff members to participate in a Skills Gathering Survey during May 2020 when we were in full lockdown in Victoria. This information was collected to identify opportunities to redeploy staff into other YPRL teams impacted with additional workload due to the COVID-19 health pandemic. The redeployment could be one-off, ad hoc, or a short-term temporary arrangement matched to a specific project or task. This redeployment applied to both our exisiting casuals and permanent full-time and part-time staff. Higher workloads were being experienced by our Communications team, our Human Resources team, our Events teams and our ICT team as we were responding to the new restrictions and new ways of working and more staff with the required skills were reallocated to these teams.

Yarra Plenty Regional Library Staff Covid-19 Information page

Staff shared information about skills they had in areas such as:

  1. Marketing, communication and social media,
  2. IT and technical,
  3. Project management and administration,
  4. Microsoft Office Suite, particularly SharePoint
  5. Administration skills,
  6. Policy and procedure development and review, and
  7. Other skills
Yarra Plenty Regional Library had a suite of guidelines and processes for working from home

Procedures were already in place for staff to work from home and these were adjusted to allow all staff to transition to working from home. Where required specific equipment was transferred to staff home offices to support their work. When all worksites not deemed essential were closed down all library staff, including branch library staff,were required to work from home. Staff completed home risk assessment forms and, working with their direct manager, developed a home-based work plan. Working-from-home guidelines were produced to support staff working from home and the offer of flexible working arrangements was made if home situations required a different work plan or work hours. All rosters transitioned to Monday to Friday.

We were also very aware of the anxiety that some staff members were experiencing and a telephone check-in with our Employee Assistance Provider was instigated. A staff Wellness Hub on the SharePoint Intranet with whole organisation and team activities, links to wellness resources and tips for working from home safely was also established. Managers also had a daily virtual coffee catch-up with the staff to ensure everyone was coping well and understood what they needed to achieve for the day.

Yarra Plenty Regional Library Staff Wellness Hub more information in the link

YPRL also supported staff with an additional 10 days Covid Leave for those staff who needed to self isolate while being tested. Access to available long service leave was also made more flexible for those staff who preferred not to work from home but had limited annual leave options.

Our aim always was to keep staff gainfully employed in meaningful work even if they were working from home and regardless of their technology skill levels to avoid standing staff down. For this we needed to have a broad range of projects and training opportunities that staff could participate in. Over the period of our worksites closure, skilled library staff delivered training over Microsoft Teams on subjects such as our digital library offer and how to use it, research skills, mindfulness, how to write a blog, social media skills and many more.

Yarra Plenty Regional Library transitions out of lockdown

Once Libraries were able to reopen as worksites and to offer services such as Click and Collect services we also supported staff to transition back to the workplace. We implemented online infection guideline training for all staff and return to workplace training so that staff members were very aware of the new Covid safe way of working required and the daily risk checklists to undertake. All staff completed the training before coming onsite. Staff were also provided with the required work permits and we worked with staff to create location bubbles to reduce the possibility of infection across multiple sites as required by the State Government.

Continuous communication with staff was also essential and you can read more about our communication strategies with staff in Part 2.

The training staff were able to undertake was very timely as we also transitioned to a new Library Management System during this time. All staff technical skills improved and our uptake and skill levels with Microsoft Teams — the major meeting platform used — significantly improved. We are now looking to the future and thinking about how this new way of working digitally can aid us in the new normal.

Adapted from Managing a Library Service in a Crisis by Jane Cowell published in Library Management, Emerald December 2020



Jane Cowell

Librarian, interested in libraries, digital disruption, startups, Australian politics