As the start of the Spring 2021 semester nears, the folks in User Services at the James E. Walker Library have remained on the front lines of interaction with students and faculty. That made their transition from regular library use to pandemic protocols all the more important.
In part, they have handled the transition by moving almost all of their in-person library instruction online. That’s not as easy as it sounds, even for one of the most technologically astute staffs at MTSU.
“It’s not just a matter of doing your teaching in front of a camera,” said Jason Vance, interim user services chair and information literacy librarian. “There’s a lot that goes into making those accessible, making sure that the lessons are still engaging and interactive in this new environment.”
For some people, the personal touch is everything. Associate professor Karen Dearing, a reference and instruction librarian, is grateful for the transition because she found the spring transition to an all-distance learning environment difficult.
“Right now, I’m doing a mixture of the Zoom instruction and working at the service desk downstairs,” Dearing said. “So I get a nice mix of both the online and the in-person research assistance.”
Associate professor Ashley Shealy, who also is a reference and instruction librarian, typically teaches in-person classes and works at the reference desk. Now she’s doing everything online.
“Shifting from the in-person perspective just to the virtual has been a big adjustment because I really do miss that face-to-face contact,” Shealy said.
Shealy said she is always thinking about ways to take difficult concepts and distill them in ways that students can understand. She has taught library instruction for 10 years, but she said she never has encountered anything like this.
“Having to shift from doing it in person to online has been one of the biggest challenges of my career,” Shealy said.
The flip side of all the understandable transition angst is that the pandemic has forced people to stretch themselves and their abilities in ways they never could have imagined. Their natural intellectual curiosity, nurtured by years in an academic environment, has invigorated even the most veteran librarians.
“It’s been a challenge to my own skills in the way I’ve done things and gotten myself out of habits that I’ve had,” Dearing said.
In some ways, Vance said, the pandemic has done a great deal to shine a light on services the library has been offering since long before the COVID-19 virus began dominating the news, including the online chat service, which remains very popular.
“You can still get that college experience on campus even though you’re not in a physical classroom,” Vance said.
Of course, the library is still open to serve students in person with the Plexiglass barriers and distancing protocols that have become societal standards. Contact-free book pickup is one big change in service methods.
“It’s sort of like the online shopping or Kroger Clicklist where you can place your order and we’ll pull it for you and have it ready,” Vance said. “You can just come in and grab it without talking or touching anybody. We’ve seen a big uptick in that service since the spring.”
Perhaps that level of engagement is also partly due to the library’s decision to be more lenient and accommodating when it comes to fines on overdue books. Some students have moved back home, meaning the library sometimes gets its books returned by mail or delivery service.
Vance said the library just wants its books back.
— Gina Kerra Logue (firstname.lastname@example.org)