Visions of Success: Academic Libraries in a Post COVID-19 World

How will COVID-19 change how libraries offer their collections and services in the long term? How will it change the nature of our work? This article provides a vision of the future in which libraries become true connectors of people and catalysts for discovery.

Academic libraries have been undergoing transformation. In response to student and faculty needs, libraries have moved from physical spaces valued for their collections and research support to full-service research and student success hubs. COVID-19 has both accelerated these changes and, in some cases, upended them. The pandemic has resulted in increased use of, and reliance on, digital collections, and more interest in self-service and online programming. The in-person reference interview and the learning commons as a physical one stop shop are on hiatus, though the need for those services remains.

How will COVID-19 change how libraries offer their collections and services in the long term? How will it change the nature of our work? This article provides a vision of the future in which libraries become true connectors of people and catalysts for discovery.

To see into the future of libraries, we imagine real-world scenarios of them in use, expanding their roles as centers of student success; making archival materials, research assistance, and programming more accessible; and foregrounding collaboration between students, faculty, and librarians.

 

drawing of stylized woman standing in center with 5 arrows radiating out to different student work scenariosVISION #1: LIBRARY AS PHYSICAL AND VIRTUAL STUDENT SUCCESS HUB

Rita meets her peer advisor in the library student success center for help with an upcoming test, then meets with a writing coach and a data analysis coach together to get help on her upcoming paper on vaccines, and then settles into a study space to work on the paper. Behind the scenes, booking the appointment, sending reminders, and logging the progress all happen on one platform.

Welcome to the Learning Commons 2.0! In this scenario, the library continues its development as a student success hub, taking a leadership role in the development of a physical and virtual student success ecosystem for the institution. Colocation of services like tutoring, writing center, and makerspaces continues, and is enhanced by a common portal to book consultations, follow up on them, monitor progress, and gather data to improve performance of services, systems, and spaces. Ultimately, it ensures that every student gets the support they need to successfully complete their coursework.

Key partnerships would need to be developed with undergraduate education, advising, and other student support services, and connections to other student support systems made. The library is uniquely positioned to champion a common portal as a natural outgrowth of the learning commons movement, defined by common spaces and collaborative services.

 

stylized drawing with image split diagonally, left side is lecturer in traditional classroom with graph on wall up front, right is same graph on computer screen with user images stacked up on right side of screenVISION #2: HYBRID PROGRAMMING AND SERVICES

Eleanor and Joel are taking statistics this semester, and Joel prefers to learn on campus while Eleanor prefers to learn online. Both simultaneously attend the library’s hybrid workshop on the R statistical software environment, getting oriented, running through demos, and asking questions along the way. Afterward, they each set up appointments to get advice on their class project on visualizing their university’s energy usage.

With students taking classes in person and online, flexibility is needed. The online services, collections, and programming that libraries offer have been extremely successful. Students and faculty will expect them to continue even when we can return to regular physical interaction.

Libraries will offer research consultations, instruction sessions, programming, and events simultaneously in person and online. To increase access and convenience, content will be archived and sent to the patron, shared in course management systems, and archived in institutional repositories for later viewing. This will appeal to students with different learning styles and to those who want to learn where they are and when they are available. Providing services both in person and online also allows libraries to engage with community members and donors who may not be able to visit physically or attend events when they occur.

 

stylized drawing with image split diagonally, left side shows man and woman removing paper material from flat files, right side shows man on computer screen with same material presented as options at right side of screenVISION #3: SPECIAL COLLECTIONS AND ARCHIVES GO DIGITAL-FIRST

Priya and Sarah are doing a class project on the history of activism on campus. They watch an orientation video, search the digital archives for photographs and meeting minutes, and meet with an archivist over Zoom. After visiting the archives to see (and smell!) the key primary sources in person, they apply machine learning to analyze the text and find patterns, then identify secondary sources to put their findings in context.

The most unique and valuable materials academic libraries hold are preserved in their special collections and archives. Key documents and artifacts related to the institution’s history, as well as rare manuscript collections from prominent individuals and organizations, provide primary source materials for courses and researchers. Digitization, transcription, and technologies like 3-D scanning for artifacts have begun to offer unprecedented access to these materials to students and scholars around the world.

However, the time and expense of these frequently manual processes, coupled with the huge backlog of holdings, means access to the bulk of the collection remained mostly limited to in-person visits. When libraries were forced to move their services online during the height of the first wave of the pandemic, archives struggled to figure out how to provide access to the majority of their content. As they too offer more asynchronous and self-service options, and develop additional tutorials, the combination of in-person and online engagement will open these often-hidden collections to be integrated throughout the curriculum. With luck, the pandemic will demonstrate the high value of digitization for access, not just preservation, leading to increased institutional support for digitization efforts and enabling new research tools and methods. Meanwhile, technological advances from phone-based 3-D scanning to handwriting recognition will make these projects easier to scale up.

 

stylized drawing in 3 parts: 4 people looking at images on wall, 2 people looking at computer, 4 people sitting around tableVISION #4: COLLABORATIVE CREATIVITY

Alex, Andre, Sam, and Vivian are working on their capstone business project to create a social media strategy for a local social services nonprofit. Over the course of the semester, they work in the library to brainstorm ideas, take skills workshops, record and edit videos, build a website, design a postcard, and create and practice their final presentation. Afterward, they submit it to the library project gallery so others can learn from and build on their work.

Through the addition of digital media creation support services and makerspaces, libraries have become go-to places for the completion of projects, which will only increase as learning becomes more experiential and hands-on activities become a core reason to be on campus. Students can learn creation and prototyping skills, get one-on-one assistance, and leave with a prototype or finished product, all while learning the skills that help them succeed in tomorrow’s workplace: creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. Libraries should lean into this role, developing a fully comprehensive project support network for students digitally and physically. The entire project lifecycle can be supported: team building, interpreting assignments and context, developing skills, identifying goals, and creating digital and physical artifacts. But it shouldn’t stop there. By also providing platforms for the storage, sharing, and publication of results, academic libraries can become showplaces sharing the intellectual output of their campuses.

 

stylized drawing in 3 parts: smart phone in person's hand showing images, person sitting in chair with images on wall in front of them, 4 people around a table talkingVISION #5: LIBRARY SPACE AS A NETWORK

Before leaving his dorm, Derrell maps out his day using the university’s space-finder app. He picks a study lounge to work in before class, then books a seat in the data studio in the afternoon and a group study space in the library in the evening. Each location has unified policies and procedures, technology setup, and technology support, and he uses the same platform to book the space, the technology he needs, and the meetings with people to help him with hardware, software, and data.

Academic libraries have continually struggled to provide enough study and project space for students and faculty, a challenge amplified by social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID- 19. This shortfall could be mitigated by identifying additional study spaces around campus to form a network. Libraries have been protective of their role as a study location; a study space in a library has a unique value because it’s co-located with experts, collections, and tools. It’s time for libraries to move outside the bounds of their buildings to inventory, organize, and manage the study spaces across the campus and ensure a coordinated approach to technology, furniture, support services, and policies. Libraries should own the network of spaces that help students succeed to enhance their experience while operating more efficiently.

 

stylized drawing with one group of people standing and looking at images on wall, second group sitting around table looking at single image on wallVISION #6: NEW WAYS OF WORKING

A self-organized team of library faculty and staff works together equitably to create the concise team charter for a project to create a collaborative research data support service with IT and the Office of Institutional Research. After creating operating principles for how they'll work, they interview users, identify pain points, prototype a new kind of consultation through role play, and then conduct a pilot project with a group of public health faculty.

One of the biggest takeaways from the pandemic has been the success of working outside the workplace. As collaboration software (Zoom, Teams, Google Workplace, Mural, Miro, etc.) becomes more robust, there will be more ways for both researchers and library employees to work together without having to be together—communicating, conducting experiments, sharing documents, and publishing their results. More than creating a global research enterprise, this new world of work will provide the accessibility and flexibility needed to create a more diverse and equitable workplace. Imagine if we could recruit and the individual could remain living where they currently do? What if these changes force libraries to develop new norms and principles for more equitable and inclusive work? What if libraries could further leverage interinstitutional and consortial relationships? With lean years ahead and fewer people and resources to utilize, collaboration will be critical.

It’s difficult to predict how academic libraries will change post–COVID-19. One thing is certain—libraries will continue to grow and change to meet the needs of their patrons. The current environment provides an opportunity to scale up and diversify our services, solving university-wide problems and making clear our business isn’t just books, it’s learning and research. Through the development of new systems, collaborations, and distribution methods—both physical and virtual—we can successfully connect students and faculty in ways that ensure their success and place the academic library at the center of the academic enterprise.


Christopher Cox is Dean of Libraries, Clemson University, Clemson, SC; Elliot Felix is Founder and CEO, Brightspot Strategy, City, MN. All illustrations by John Holmes.

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Prithvi raj

Thank you Christopher Cox and Elliot Felix. In my opinion all these aspects of reader services were existing even before the Covid-19. Only difference was readers and we librarians had the privilage of meeting each in person, and because of this it had made both of us little more dependent on each other. Now since we have lost this privilage, library think tank has began to give new dimentions to the already existing terminalogies like archive, collabration, hybrid service, space management and many more. Unless there is an urge within the readers and librarains, no technology or concepts can impact on the learning and research aspetcs.

Posted : Jan 09, 2021 04:03


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