Ohio University

Libraries’ Reflections After a Year of COVID-19

Image of the words "Reflections of the past year: Ohio University, University Libraries"
Graphic design by Victor Lowe/Ohio University Libraries

It has been a little over a year since Ohio University Libraries closed its buildings on March 17 due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic. Since then, the way we live, work, teach and learn have changed dramatically, but one constant remained throughout this tumultuous time: the dedication, enthusiasm and unceasing support of the Ohio University Libraries staff.

Many faculty turned to the Libraries for assistance as they transferred to teaching and working online. One example of innovation that was critical in ensuring that faculty needs were met during the pandemic was the Libraries’ new Content Request form.

“It gave faculty a way to quickly share what materials they needed for both their students’ assignments and their own research.  We were able to effectively track requests and find electronic alternatives for hundreds of items previously available from the Libraries only in physical formats,” said Seth Sisler, electronic resources librarian and interim head of acquisitions and collections services. “As of today, we’ve received 972 content requests since March 2020.”

In addition to filling content requests, Hanna Schmillen, subject librarian for health sciences and interim head of subject liaison services, said she also answered questions about copyright, Libraries resources, alternative online content and online teaching tools to help faculty, staff and students utilize the Libraries’ online resources. 

All of this happened as librarians and staff were developing new online skills and making transitions of their own.

“Even when we weren’t open physically, we were still providing robust virtual help services,” said Chad Boeninger, head of user services and business librarian. “Our chat service remained very popular, but it’s kind of interesting – before the pandemic we would get about 200 phone calls a year, and in the past year we got about 2,000.”

The librarians and staff who were working remotely after the onset of the pandemic had to quickly adjust to answering those phone calls remotely and other forms of communication, such as video calls on platforms like Microsoft Teams. By utilizing different platforms, they ensured that research assistance for faculty and students was easily accessible.

Sherri Saines, subject librarian for social sciences, even offered an “embedded librarian program,” where she worked with faculty to plan and tweak their learning objectives and assignments. Saines attended the classes multiple times in the semester, “joining in on discussion and readings, teaching research skills as needed, offering advice on the fly, and encouraging students to contact [her] with questions or for research appointments.”

As everyone got used to learning and working online, the Libraries’ staff created tutorials and resources for remote teaching and learning. Digitization projects were also increased to make the Libraries’ resources more accessible online.

“Within the Digital Initiatives unit, our priorities have shifted in response to the…increased reliance on digital resources,” reported Erin Wilson, digital imaging specialist and lab manager. “Our digital collections are being used in innovative ways by faculty, students and within the Libraries.”

The Libraries continues to develop innovative new resources and initiatives despite the pandemic. Just to name a few examples, membership in HathiTrust increases the amount of materials that faculty, staff and students can access online, the OHIO Open Library houses this year’s Student Virtual Expo entries and the One Button Studio at Alden Library offers professional-quality video and audio recordings.

Students, faculty and staff could also utilize the self-pickup service for physical materials at Alden Library. Even with these resources, however, many were relieved when the Libraries re-opened spaces at Alden and the regional campus libraries at the start of the fall 2020 semester.

“I think, especially for students who live on campus, it is important to have somewhere quiet and reliable to go to focus on schoolwork,” said Gwen Jones, a senior in integrated language arts and a Libraries student employee who works with the facilities manager. “I think having [the Libraries spaces] available is incredibly helpful for students’ productivity and academic achievement.”

Although many were eager for the Libraries’ buildings to re-open in the fall, it took a lot of hard work to ensure that the spaces were safe. In Alden Library, Robin Wooten, facilities manager for the Libraries, has been working to ensure the building stays clean and safe for the OHIO community.

“A lot of the stuff I did was routine,” said Wooten, who worked in-person for much of the pandemic, “but a lot of it was extra logistical stuff like trying to figure out when people were going to come back to the [Libraries] and how many people we could safely fit on each floor.”

This involved working out important details, like putting up extra signage about wearing masks and taking precautions, spacing furniture six feet apart and making sure that the Libraries are following OHIO’s Presidential Health Directives.

“Staff and student workers also did hourly headcounts of the building to help monitor building density…While we conducted these headcounts, we were also ensuring that everyone stuck with the COVID safety guidelines that were outlined by the University,” said Ryan Spellman, library support specialist.

None of this would have been possible without the librarians and staff providing online services, collecting data, creating precautions and procedures, and cleaning the in-person spaces to ensure that everyone stays safe.

Neil Romanosky, dean of University Libraries, expressed his appreciation for all of the extra work and the dedication the Libraries’ staff has displayed in the past year in an email to the librarians and staff.

The Libraries’ spaces were among the last in the University to close, and among the first to reopen, during this pandemic,” he said. “And in many other ways, the Libraries remained available and open for business without interruption. None of that would have been possible without your hard work and commitment to our users.”

As vaccination rates rise and we transition back to in-person working, teaching and learning, the world is once again changing. But the dedication, enthusiasm and unceasing support of the Ohio University Libraries staff will always remain constant in helping the OHIO community succeed.