Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Library in COVID-19 Times: Part 1: Transitioning Facilities

Levy Library’s main hall before and after changes for storage

The Levy Library at the Icahn School of Medicine centralizes all library services for the entire Mount Sinai system, serving more than 30,000 students, faculty, clinicians, and trainees. The Levy Library is located in the Mount Sinai Hospital on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, NY. The library occupies 2 floors, 1 of which holds 6 large classrooms and individual study spaces, while the other serves as the main hall. The main library hall is divided into several areas that include public computers, quiet study areas, and group study areas. In addition, the main hall also hosts the circulation desk, academic information technology (IT) support, and 2 additional classrooms. The library’s main hall is open daily until midnight, while the lower floor is open all night to allow students and trainees to have a safe, quiet place to study. On average, the number of visitors is 40,000 per month.

With the advent of COVID-19 and the location in the main hospital building, we were asked to convert the floor with classrooms into a storage area for respirators arriving for deployment. These ventilators were to be assembled and distributed to various locations across the Mount Sinai system. To accomplish this, the library team collaborated with IT and facilities management to disconnect all networking and electrical cables embedded in the floors and clear as much space as possible for the equipment.

 Levy Library classrooms converted for storing ventilators

Levy Library classrooms converted for storing ventilators

A week later, staff working at the library area was moved to work from home, all offices were vacated, and the library was closed to patrons. At that time, we realized that considering the main hall’s size, hospital leadership could use it. A few members of the team went to work immediately, pushing all the furniture to the peripheral walls and clearing most of the square footage. Within two weeks, the library’s main hall was used to store patients’ beds, and within three weeks, walls were built around circulation, group study, and public computers to protect them from damage. A video of what the library looks like now is available.

Levy Library’s main hall before changes for storage

Levy Library’s circulation desk before changes for storage

Levy Library’s main hall after changes for storage

Levy Library after the changes for storage

Transitioning from 24/7 study space with an active and vibrant circulation services serving thousands every month to a medical equipment storage space was emotionally difficult for all involved. We not only lamented the closure of the library, we also felt overwhelmed by the idea that these beds and ventilators would most likely be used to treat patients. Looking at the rows of beds and boxes of medical equipment filling our classrooms from floor to ceiling, we could not help but feel sad. That said, we all felt proud of our ability to quickly adapt to the new needs of our institution and provide the support that they needed in this case: free, open spaces to store equipment. Collaborating with our leadership and being proactive in our efforts were key to the success of this transition. We look forward to the day when the library will be filled with people again.

MLAConnect May 7: Part 2: Transitioning educational and support services remotely while expanding library offerings