An iPad being pulled from a shelf of print books

When the UCSB Library and campus closed suddenly in March 2020 because of the growing COVID-19 pandemic, the expected duration of closure was estimated at a mere three weeks.

Over the past 15 months, our community has experienced a multitude of personal and professional challenges and opportunities, among them the transition to the virtual workspace.

Library staff quickly discovered innovative ways to make resources, expertise, and services more easily accessible. This included providing access to primary source materials for research; scanning content for Course Reserves; purchasing and promoting electronic books; offering virtual instruction and research consultations; and much more.

These changes propelled the Library further into the digital world, ensuring support for student and faculty needs both locally and on national and international levels throughout the pandemic.

Increasing Access

The University of California libraries collaborated across the system to provide access to millions of electronic texts through its membership in the HathiTrust Digital Library. HathiTrust, In response to the pandemic, elected to provide increased access to otherwise restricted copyrighted publications using the Emergency Temporary Access Service (ETAS).

With the ETAS in place, librarians, faculty, and students were able to freely access digitized versions of collection materials held at the UC campus libraries while their physical buildings were closed. This increase in shared information helped librarians assist faculty and students in advancing their research, even if they couldn’t access physical texts.

HathiTrust logo“The HathiTrust ETAS has been a lifesaver for faculty and grads,” said librarian Jane Faulkner. She used the ETAS to locate a digital copy of The Womb of Space that allowed a graduate student to continue her research at home. “It's allowing us to access, electronically, those physical books that wait quietly in the library while we're locked out of the building.”

UCSB Library’s efforts have even crossed international borders to support students and researchers.

Yao Chen, UCSB’s East Asian Studies Librarian, spearheaded an initiative--with the help of Columbia University’s Chinese Studies Librarian Chengzhi Wang--to secure and promote temporary free access to over 160 electronic databases within the Greater China Area. The initiative assembled a detailed list of available online resources to ease the difficulty of remote research and instruction for  Chinese scholars.

“Our effort received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our Chinese and East Asian librarian colleagues,” said Chen, referencing colleagues from Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, UCLA, University of Washington, Smithsonian Libraries, Oberlin College, Elling Eide Center, NYU, San Diego State, and Macalester College. “This timely and comprehensive list of databases has greatly benefitted overseas Chinese scholars and students in coping with the switch to remote instruction due to COVID-19.”

Focusing on UCSB Students & Faculty

The majority of our librarians’ work has been focused on giving our faculty and students the resources they need to succeed remotely, reducing feelings of isolation or frustration with the unfamiliarity of online learning and teaching.

One of the most successfully implemented features was the “Ask a Librarian” live chat box on every page of the Library website and in GauchoSpace, the online platform where students and faculty manage course communication and information. The chat box functions 24/7 and makes it easy for students to get in touch with their librarians regarding any type of academic need.

Often, many of these needs stemmed from unfamiliarity with basic research strategies, or how to use the Library’s online features to supplement their scholarship.

Escape Room digital flyerOur team of librarians in the Teaching & Learning Department responded to this knowledge gap with a variety of freely available video tutorials, titled the “Teaching & Learning Series,” each lasting no more than two minutes. The videos take students and faculty through brief instructions on various topics, including how to receive help from the Library on a research project, how to conceptualize the research process, methods to critically evaluate sources, and how to retrieve the full text of an article.  

These tutorials and resources were uniquely crafted by instruction librarians to deliver customized instruction on how to do academic research within GauchoSpace course sites. Librarians also rapidly adapted their instructional techniques to foster learning experiences for students in a variety of ways, including synchronous sessions, recorded lectures, monitored discussion forums, and interactive challenges such as our “Virtual Escape Room,” designed to orient new students to the Library, despite learning remotely.

The Library has also seen an increase in the creation and use of Research Guides, which are designed to help researchers locate curated content related to a particular subject. For example, as the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement gained momentum in the Spring and Summer of 2020, our Black Studies Librarian Angela Chikowero quickly created the “Race, Racial Relations, and the Black Experience in the U.S.” Research Guide for those wishing to learn more about the history of racial justice and black experiences. Her Research Guide also created opportunities for faculty to collaborate with the Library as they integrated material surrounding the BLM movement into class curriculums.

Our Mission in the Virtual Year

The Library's mission is to enable exploration and collaboration for scholars in their intellectual engagement with the world of ideas and the creation of knowledge. We also believe that experimentation is essential in order to meet the rapidly-changing needs of Library users, an ideal that was heavily tested in the past year. Amidst the world of virtual education, our staff rose to the challenge of our mission, reducing the pandemic’s negative impacts and introducing innovative services that may just become permanent features for future generations.