University of Iowa Libraries launching peer monitor program to promote mask compliance

The main library on the UI campus launched a campaign to communicate to and monitor students’ compliance with COVID-19 mask-wearing protocols.


Grace Smith

Pictured is the Main Library at the University of Iowa on Oct. 28, 2020.

Morgan Ungs, News Reporter

The University of Iowa has implemented many changes on campus to ensure the safety of students, but one particular area of the university is struggling to ensure students are wearing face coverings: the Main Library.

Jennifer Masada, UI libraries strategic communications manager, said staff have noticed that some students are not wearing their masks while studying. That prompted the staff to put together a task force to plan communication and monitoring for proper mask usage in the library.

“We identified several approaches to make sure that students know that [masks] are required,” she said. “We created a social media campaign reminding students about wearing their masks.”

These campaigns are hosted on the library’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. One of the staff members used a special collection of pictures from the Victorian times and photoshopped masks on the images as an eye-catching way to remind visitors that face coverings are required.

The library is also issuing reminders through the public address system. One announcement addressed some of the information students may not be familiar with, like how face masks are required in the library even when socially distanced. The announcement also explains that even in tucked away corners at the library, face masks are still required.

Masada said library staff are also training a group of students to monitor mask-wearing in the building as part of a partnership with the Office of Student Accountability.

“Training really focuses on a peer-to-peer conversation to foster some dialogue about if someone isn’t wearing a face mask to approach them in a kind and compassionate way to ask them if they simply forgot,” Masada said.

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Monitors will also be rewarding students that are compliant with the rules some Hawkeye “swag,” Masada said.

Amy Paulus, head of access services for the library, said the main library has seen a drop in visitors in the building this year as occupancy is limited to 50 percent to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Before COVID we would have, during our peak time in the afternoon, 800 to 900 people in the entire building, and now our numbers are 300 to maybe 400 range during our peak times,” Paulus said.

The library tracks the number of students entering the building through cameras that count the number of people entering the building at each entrance, Masada said.

Because students must remove face coverings to eat or drink, the library has also limited eating to the Food for Thought Cafe area. Before COVID-19, the students could eat or drink in the main sections of the library to make students feel more welcome. But if people are removing their face coverings to eat close to somebody or in a public area, that creates an unsafe environment, Paulus said.

Another library on campus, the Marvin A. Pomerantz Business Library, has also struggled to enforce the face-covering rule.

Said Business Library Head Kimberly Bloedel: “To ensure mask compliance we have increased the monitoring of the space and posted additional signage,” she said. “The response to these reminders has been positive.”

Paulus said that the main library also increased signage in some of the more secluded areas of the library to ensure compliance. She said this was in response to a student speaking out about what they saw and encouraged students to contact the library if they see any issues or tips.

“We appreciate all the feedback we can get because it helps keep everybody safe when we’re communicating well,” Paulus said.

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