There is much we have learned while supporting student research in a hybrid environment these past two years. Although we have regained the ability to meet and teach our students in person, the lessons we learned along the way offer opportunities for innovation, flexibility, and care. The future of library support has been irrevocably changed by the pandemic, from simple tasks, such as how we conduct meetings, to more complex work, such as creating a student experience that is both engaging and informative.
As Head of Archives and Special Collections Cynthia Becht noted, “teaching hybrid has been freeing.” Offering instruction online allowed us to host multiple classes in a single day since we were not limited to scheduling the physical archives classroom. Moreover, we found it easier to share and discuss documents with students using Zoom’s screenshare functions, rather than passing around a single object or producing copies of worksheets and finding guides.
The benefits of hybrid instruction extended beyond our students. In Kirstin Noreen’s ARHS 3200 “Medieval Art” course, for example, students were able to work with dyes outside the library while attending library instruction virtually, thus protecting our rare and valuable materials from damage.
Our faculty colleagues recognize that learning can take longer in an online environment, and so were open to “flipped” classroom models, in which a substantial portion of the work is done by students in advance. We took the time to standardize and create additional instructional videos, thus ensuring that every student receives the same foundational information. Moreover, creating digital versions of these learning materials enabled us to focus on ensuring our instruction was accessible to a variety of student needs. On one hand, we may be trading classroom fun for the efficiency of the Zoom room. On the other hand, we are providing space to accommodate various student, faculty, and staff needs.
Students have told us that they not only enjoyed learning this way, but would also like to see more instruction like it. We will continue to offer in-person research consultations, library instruction, and events, but we now have a wider range of options available to us vis-a-vis modality, time, and space. Of particular note, we redesigned our “RADAR Challenge” tutorial in the style of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” making it a more engaging experience. The tutorial tasks students with researching the topic of food insecurity, a subject that is both relevant and in line with LMU’s social mission. Moreover, we can examine which information literacy concepts students struggle with the most and modify our in-person instruction based on this data.
Internally, we found that working hybrid required us to modify project priorities and strategically re-evaluate how we spend our time. Supervisors have the space to reflect upon and improve the project management aspects of their work. We shifted our attention to projects that required long stretches of uninterrupted focus, such as database and metadata cleanup, systems work, and improving catalog records; and the need to enhance off-campus access to materials required us to spend more time improving access to e-books and streaming media.
The way that we collaborate has changed as well. Zoom offered the ability for teams to look at a document together. We could appraise acquisitions from vendors in other cities without needing those items shipped to us or having to travel. Not spending one to two hours each day commuting allowed us greater concentration and less anxiety. We no longer have to worry about the availability of the conference room or how long it will take to travel between back-to-back meetings. And while the need for teams to work around constantly changing hybrid schedules can be difficult, it has forced us to improve how we communicate and track the progress of our projects. “People just feel better about work,” said Glenn Johnson-Grau, head of acquisitions and collection development.
Libraries and archives have existed for centuries, and they have adapted to constantly changing methods and mediums of information access. As institutes of higher education work to remake our educational spaces, we will be here supporting our students and faculty with all our tools and expertise.