COVID-19 has changed how I think about school. Prior to switching to remote learning this spring, I’d never taken a fully online course and I had no desire to. I had avoided online coursework because I knew they wouldn’t work well for my learning style. I was right that I struggle with discussion through Zoom and fully engaging with asynchronous work is difficult for me. But, like everyone else, I’ve adapted. After finishing the spring semester remotely, taking online summer courses, and being fully online this fall, I almost feel like I’ve got the hang of this.
However, like many others I miss the benefit of the physical library. Not only do I miss this for the study space, but for the robust and well-developed collection designed to suit the students at my university. Sure, online databases work wonders and interlibrary loan services are still functional; but working directly with the reference collection, checking out items in the children’s literature collection, and accessing items on course reserves were a must for me in my first semester-and-a-half of graduate school.
I admire graduate students in online program who may never step foot inside their university’s library, yet who surely take advantage of digital library resources. However, I will never step foot inside Beatley Library at Simmons University again. This is not necessarily because of COVID-19, but because Simmons university is undergoing extensive campus renovations and the library will be closed through the Spring of 2022; and I’ll be graduating in December 2021 if all goes according to plan.
Before I fully jump into this, I do want to note that librarians at Simmons are working to provide resources and services to students, and that work should not be ignored. It’s important, helpful, and valuable, and the university is asking for so much of the librarians between COVID and the library closure. This is just a broader exploration of physical library space and collections as they relate to library sciences education.
As a fellow Simmons student pointed out in a post in a Facebook group, some students may be studying in the on-campus program, but never step foot in the library at all because of this renovation. While course reserves and the university archives will be available in a different building when the campus reopens for in-person coursework, this isn’t the same; and COVID throws another wrench into this situation.
This semester, all of the courses I’m in would have required me to take full advantage of the library. As a dual degree student, I take both LIS courses and courses in children’s literature. My children’s literature course for the semester, Picturebook, requires reading in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 picture books a week. These books would have been available on course reserves and I would have made a weekly trip to sit down with them and read. While digital course reserves materials are supposedly available, scans or digital access to picture books, especially out of print picture books that are hard to access, were not available through the university library.
My LIS courses have required consulting numerous professional resources to create storytime plans and creating an annotated bibliography or folktale collections to consider their use for storytelling programs. Both of these assignments would have been far easier with in-person access to library materials in both the reference collection and the circulating collection.
While I acknowledge that professors and universities have had to adapt just as much as their students (and I’m thankful for the ways in which my professors are considering the needs of their students in these times) the lack of a library has exposed accessibility issues in academia.
My picturebook professor has encouraged us to access as many of our class readings in person as possible. But, with many libraries limited to curbside pickup only options, it can be difficult to judge the timing of holds in order to gain access to these books; and digital picture books are few and far between in collections like Overdrive and those that do exist are sometimes poorly formatted.
When consulting professional resources for storytime plans, my professor has complied online resources for us to use these have to be blogs created by working professionals. If we see something we like in a library systems online storytime, we can’t use it unless it’s been published somewhere. While I understand that it’s important to know where and how to find professional resources, some librarians use wonderful songs, fingerplays, and rhymes, but may not have the time to compile them in a blog. Additionally, while there are myriad print resources that would be easy to browse in the library in non-COVID times with an open library, that’s not a possibility and getting these resources depends on interlibrary loan or utilizing a public library, which may not be efficient or effective for every student
Many of these concerns should extend to accessibility beyond COVID: Why aren’t more well-produced digital picture books available? Why do we always prioritize formally published or compiled professional resources when library professionals are doing and sharing work through a variety of channels? How should we balancing physical vs. digital collections to benefit students in on-ground and online programs? What is the value of the physical library space for students in LIS programs?
At the time that Simmons reopens for in-person classes (whenever that may be), hopefully library systems in and around Boston will again be open to the public to help students access physical materials more easily when they need them. However, I can’t help but wonder what the effects of navigating library school without access to a physical library will be for students starting their graduate education as on-campus students.
Macy Davis is a second-year student at Simmons University in the MA in Children’s Literature/MS in Library and Information Sciences dual degree program. She’s just started her first library job and is spending winter break reading. You can find her on Twitter @bookishlybright or through her personal blog.