The Library, along with everyone else, found itself in new waters this past March when a pandemic came to our door. Stay at Home orders and a regard for everyone’s safety necessitated moving the classroom—along with all accompanying learning and academic support—online to ensure social distancing. We all hoped that this then new reality would be short-lived, yet it continues to evolve and change at a feverish pace. While going back to a pre-pandemic reality seems a distant dream, we strive, along with the rest of campus, to find a middle ground whereby we are meeting the needs of our patrons in a safe and responsible manner. Library planning at the onset and through continuing variations has concerned three areas: (1) resources, (2) services, and (3) spaces.
Fortunately, libraries have been making strategic shifts from print to digital for a few decades now. This shift has happened for a variety of reasons, including the following.
- Electronic resources provide students, faculty, and researchers with 24×7 access, freeing them from the geographical and time limits of a physical place.
- Depending on the license, there are instances whereby e-resources allow multiple users to access the same item at the same time, freeing folks from first come, first served advantages and disadvantages.
- E-resources are often purchased in packages, which means buying power. There are also programs that don’t trigger a purchase until an electronic item is accessed for the first time, freeing us from the burden of buying books that never get use.
- Space—a valuable commodity anywhere but especially on an island—can be used to serve the needs of people rather than the needs of books. Space can be used for studying and learning rather than warehousing.
Due to this trend, the Library already had robust electronic offerings pre-COVID. According to our latest Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) report, we had the following resources in print verse electronic format at the start of the Spring semester.
|Library Holdings February 2020|
Nonetheless, in March, with the arrival of COVID planning, we made an even greater effort to concentrate on electronic over print. Some steps we have taken include the following.
- We stopped ordering all physical books and media and concentrated on e-materials only for the remainder of the fiscal year.
- We gathered data on our high use print materials and purchased those items, when available, in electronic format. The result was that we purchased over 250 e-titles at a roughly 50% discount and added another 500 e-titles to our catalog for acquisition only if they are used and a purchase is triggered.
- We prioritized e-packages and executed contracts on packages that were already on our radar. This added over 70,000 e-books to the Bell Library collection.
- We promoted our already robust e-media offerings, such as Kanopy and Films on Demand, and saw a dramatic increase in usage. This is probably for two reasons. First, instructors were and are exploring a wide range of ways to engage students, including use of e-media in the virtual classroom. Second, many of us are binge watching and expanding our knowledge during this time of home isolation. Kanopy, with a Netflix feel to it, has critically acclaimed movies, inspiring documentaries, and award-winning foreign films that will support months of binging and learning. Apparently, our patrons caught on to this pretty fast, as usage has increased exponentially.
|Library E-Media Usage ComparisonLike Periods of TimeMarch 23 – June 30|
|Videos Viewed||Minutes Played|
Just as with resources, the Library had already been supporting a repertoire of virtual communication modalities, even pre-COVID, when offering research help to our patrons. Needs and preferences regarding communicating and interacting with information cross a wide spectrum of mediums. Our AskUs Desk, where our patrons can get research assistance, has been available through phone and e-mail in addition to in person for decades. Starting over a year ago, chat and text communication channels were added as well, and post-COVID we increased consultations via WebEx. When we compare 2019 numbers and 2020 numbers using like time periods, we find that virtual-only communication has not slowed our patrons down one bit.
|Library AskUs QuestionsLike Periods of TimeMarch 15 – July 7|
Notable changes, which explain why the “all questions” category is lower include 150 fewer printing questions and 124 fewer directional questions. What really excites us about this data is that research assistance and more in-depth consultation sessions did not waiver, indicating our virtual services are effective and appealing to our users.
Space is a critical part of any library. It provides a venue for deep thought, reflection, active learning, and social engagement. Unfortunately, space is also the most difficult offering to replicate virtually. While we couldn’t do it entirely—study nooks with the right ambiance only exist in physical format—we were able to keep some of our spaces connected to our users. For example, the I-Create team hosted regular crafting videos. Check out our Twitter feed (@TAMUCCLibrary) to view the video series and to relieve quarantine boredom while getting in touch with your creative side. As another example, our annual summertime cell phone photography show went virtual with great success. Over 146 entries were submitted, and exhibit visitors have been encouraged to vote for their top 5 photos (471 individuals have already voted – have you?).
As the campus begins opening back up and the library is now physically accessible, we continue to evaluate the situation. Measures are in place ranging from closing areas that don’t support social distancing, to removing furniture and technology to enforce social distancing, to going to a reservation system for appointments in some areas. Along with the rest of campus, face coverings are required, and regular sanitization is happening. Along with everyone else, we will continue emphasizing virtual offerings, providing safe physical spaces, and evolving to support our students, faculty, and staff no matter how long our new reality is not our ideal reality.