Carolina People

Carolina People: Joe Mitchem

A ‘huge undertaking’ is how he described University Libraries’ new pickup service and its transition back to campus.

Joe Mitchem readies books for curbside pickup at Davis Library. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)
Joe Mitchem readies books for curbside pickup at Davis Library. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Joe Mitchem

Interim Head of Davis Library Circulation

18 years at Carolina

You are working to bring the University Libraries’ services back to campus, including your own return to your office. Tell us about your transitions.  

In the beginning when the University transitioned to remote learning, the library buildings were closed, but we continued to provide some of our services. I worked from home in a makeshift office in a spare bedroom with my dog at my feet. During that time, the library was very busy. We transitioned to a digital-first model of service. We extended due dates for books and other materials. When we got requests, we looked for electronic alternatives for physical books.

As of July 6, I’m back in my office at Davis Library. We are transitioning back to campus and we’ve had to figure out how to safely open the libraries. Part of that plan has been the new pickup service. It’s been a huge undertaking. 

What is the library’s pickup service, and how does it work?

Anybody with an Onyen or with a UNC borrower’s card can request items from any of the libraries on campus. Once we pull the books, we send a link to schedule a time and place for pickup. At Davis Library, curbside pickup is available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, with books placed in the car trunk. We realize some people don’t have access to a vehicle, so you can also walk up or pick up inside at Davis or the Health Sciences Library. Our employees are wearing gloves and masks, and we’ll put your books in a bag on a table for you. Since we started about 400 patrons have used the service.

What has been the biggest challenge transitioning to the new pickup service?

The North Carolina summers: It’s so hot outside. The way Davis Library is situated, we don’t have a place to run out to deliver orders. Our staff is sitting outside along Lenoir Drive in a little area in the shade. It’s a huge collaboration. The user experience department of University Libraries did a great job creating an easy-to-use way for patrons to request materials.

How does the library staff maintain a sense of community?

We have over 250 full-time employees with the libraries. We regularly have all-staff meetings via Zoom, with updates about the libraries. When we came back, we got to see people in person. Even though we had masks on, it’s one thing seeing someone on Zoom, but it’s another seeing them in person. It just makes you feel like we’re back in this together and it’s going to be OK.

How are you continuing to support Carolina’s mission?

We’ve had faculty members and grad students emailing us for books for their dissertations or their classes. We are able to provide those materials for research and teaching. We’re also scanning items for online reserves so students and faculty will have them for the fall. It may take a little longer, but we’re able to access every library on campus. Soon, if you need resources from Duke or NC State, we’ll have a courier service to retrieve those items.

What do you like most about your work?

My colleagues. We have a lot of employees, but we are a big family. The staff in University Libraries is resourceful and open to suggestions on how we can make the libraries better. It’s through these tough times that we’ve gotten closer.

Carolina People is a regular feature that asks one of your fascinating colleagues questions about the work they do for the University. Do you know someone with an interesting or unique job at Carolina? Please email your suggestions to thewell@unc.edu and put Carolina People in the subject line.