By Victoria Gill-Gomez
As members of the Washington College community prepare to return to campus in the upcoming spring semester, the librarians of the Clifton M. Miller Library are adjusting what was once their virtual presence during the previous fall and spring semesters to accommodate a hybrid student body.
After a semester of only serving the College community in a virtual format, Director of Public Services Amanda Darby said that “we miss being in-person very much.”
However, she said this semester has allowed the Library of Academic Technology staff to try new things, especially when teaching students about library resources.
“In an in-person environment, you have this idea of the instruction section as 20 students in the Newlin room learning the databases. When you’re free of the physical space, there is a lot of room to play around with discussion boards in Canvas, and combining classes, and creating research guides,” Darby said.
Mary Alice Ball, dean of library and academic technology, recently spoke with other independent colleges and universities of Maryland. They shared stories and ideas about how they personally tackled going digital, leaving Ball with innovative ideas to try at WC.
On Friday, Nov. 13, the Student Government Association sent out a survey to the student body about LAT services, asking them to “help optimize the resources that support your education.”
The main concern for staff was equal access for the entire student body, even though the numbers would be split between those in town and those working remotely.
“What we don’t want to do here is to make assumptions about what students need or want,” Darby said.
Darby collaborated with her LAT team and received input from SGA Secretary of Academics senior Will Fifer when creating the survey.
So far, there have been 44 respondents. While the LAT team hopes there will be more input, and urges students to continue taking the survey, currently, they have learned that students are looking for virtual group study space, which was done in collaboration with the Writing Center and the Office of Academic Skills for the spring 2020 finals but was underutilized.
However, with a new semester coming, Darby sees it as a new opportunity to market or structure this necessity differently.
“Obviously we knew going into administering the survey that we weren’t going to necessarily be locked into anything that this survey turned out, like if it turned out that a specific service that people wanted just wasn’t going to be safe during [COVID-19] that was obviously going to take priority,” Darby said.
Other uses of the survey were to figure out how to troubleshoot access for students who may need in-person materials, such as books, archival information, and so forth even in the possibility of them learning from home. Much of this has come from working with online books such as Google resources and other e-books, which are available online through the library website.
The Clifton M. Miller Library has had several remodeling initiatives in the past year, from integrating the reference and Maryland Collection into the first floor to adding study pods on the second floor and establishing new technologies for 24/7 printing access.
Now the only access for available inside seating is on the first floor of the library with one chair per table. The basement and second floor will be shut off from any student use because of the cleaning routine and risk of spreading COVID-19 through various materials. There is currently no set capacity of how many students will be allowed in the building at one time.
If students want to check out books from the library, the tentative plan for LAT staff is once a student figures out their selection they can go to the circulation desk or send an email to one of the librarians for pickup.
Much of LAT’s information regarding the spread of COVID-19 on fabrics and other materials within libraries comes from the Online Computer Library Center “REALM” project, a global library cooperative that provides technological and research services.
As a result of this research, the only chairs that are available in the library are the plastic chairs on wheels because they are easier to clean. The fabric sofas and chairs have been moved to other locations.
“We do think our housekeeping staff is tremendous, but…there’s no way that they can keep up with the demand for cleaning…And so, we’re planning to have large containers of disinfecting wipes…and asking students to wipe down any surface — including the chair — after they have moved off of it,” Ball said.
There will also be signage to remind students of cleaning and safety protocols.
According to Darby, LAT began to edit their protocols with the idea to establish fewer restrictions to create some resemblance of normalcy. This all depends on the cooperation of the campus community whether restrictions will need to be tightened in the future in order to keep everyone safe.
“Students rely on the library, not just to use the databases…but it’s the opportunity to meet with other students, and the opportunity to have a quiet study space,” Ball said. “If you walk into the library you suddenly get this mindset, ‘okay, I’m in study mode.’ And so, what my concern has been is that the library can’t accommodate all of the students who would need that study space.”
Ball is working with the Contingency Planning Group to see if they can designate other spots on campus as quiet study spaces.
More about changes to library hours and how the newer editions of the Kiosks and IdeaWorks resources will be adapted for spring semester use is to be revealed over the next few weeks, according to Ball.
“We are very hopeful for the spring. We miss being on campus, and we know students miss the library…but we’re going to need everybody’s participation to stay safe and to keep our services running in the way that will be most beneficial to folks,” Darby said.
Featured Photo caption: Even though Miller Library has yet to establish new hours for the spring semester, students often find the terrace to be a place of communal learning and social opportunity. Photo by Izze Rios.