May 25, 2020

Teaching, learning and research support in a virtual environment

A behind-the-scenes look at how UCalgary Libraries adjusted to ensure vital support during COVID-19

The physical campus is quiet these days, but UCalgary libraries are anything but. The Taylor Family Digital Library (TFDL) has lived up to its name. Behind the scenes, a lot is happening to provide the library resources and support that students and faculty need for learning, teaching and research in a virtual environment.

The libraries were already offering many “virtual” services but when campus moved to an online teaching environment, staff in Libraries and Cultural Resources (LCR) quickly shifted gears to convert dozens more face-to-face services to online offerings, including consultations with librarians, and library workshops.

Subject experts — or liaison librarians — are busier than ever providing library instruction in online courses, synchronous and asynchronous seminars, workshops and numerous consultations In many cases, attendance has doubled in comparison to in-person sessions. LCR also expanded the hours of the virtual chat feature on the library’s website to offer additional support. Since the move to online course delivery, library staff have provided assistance in over 3,000 chat sessions.  

Pre-COVID, the library had already intended to roll out a new program offering a “personal librarian” to incoming undergraduate students this fall. This service may be more important than ever as it will provide a more stress-free virtual orientation to library services. The program will provide more personalized assistance in navigating the library, in selecting and appropriately using scholarly resources and making the best use of library collections in their learning experience.

Accessing library collections and loan of library materials

“COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented disruption for our campus community, and our mission is to ensure faculty and students get as many library resources and services as we can provide at this time,” says Dr. Mary-Jo Romaniuk, PhD, vice-provost for Libraries and Cultural Resources. “We know how important our print collections or good digital access to these materials are to many of our faculty and students in their research and scholarly endeavours.”  

UCalgary’s electronic library resources are available 24/7, and LCR has made many collections available as e-books through special short-term agreements with publishers. The library’s COVID-19 information page has a comprehensive list of resources as well as a guide for graduate students.

“Although we haven’t been able to fully reinstate circulation, we’ve found many digital options. We have an intrepid team working in document delivery and interlibrary loans,” says Romaniuk. “They’ve not been able to access resources from many North American research libraries but they have now found libraries in Europe that can provide scanned copies of some print resources. It’s wonderful that we have a global research library community to draw upon.”

Library staff work with faculty and students to source alternatives if a resource they’re seeking isn’t available.

The library has been able to make limited circulation of print materials available for Field of Study and PhD defence students. This service operates with curbside pickup — UCalgary was the first and remains one of the very few research libraries in Canada to do so.

“Restoring circulation is something that we consider a priority, as soon as the time is right and we have the permission to do so. Circulation of physical materials still remains central to our ability to fully serve faculty and students,” adds Romaniuk. “While it seems like a simple process to reinstate, it has many complications. For example, returned materials must be quarantined before they can be processed or made available for recirculation.”

Student spaces

Working with the Faculty of Graduate Studies, LCR has made private rooms available in the TFDL for candidacy and thesis oral exams in cases where students need access to technology and a reliable internet connection. Guidelines and information on how to request access to this service are available here. This service will continue throughout the summer.

In preparation for fall 2020, space reconfiguration is underway in the TFDL to conform with physical distancing guidelines, ensuring the library is ready when the time comes to begin accommodating students requiring the use of technology and study space.

Ongoing support for online course delivery

The library is also in the midst of rapid implementation of a new system that will streamline the creation and management of digital course resources lists and enable students to access all their course materials in one place, with any device. This system will benefit both faculty and students — it will be piloted over the summer and implemented by September.

Online course delivery presents unique considerations when it comes to the copyright of course materials and other digital resources. The university’s Copyright Office in LCR has been assisting faculty with transitioning their courses. Questions and requests for review are on the rise. The Copyright Office has created a guide to online course delivery.

To make it easy for faculty and students to see all the services available and to get information about any changes to services, LCR has compiled a list of remote learning supports, guidance for online course delivery and other resources on its COVID-19 information page.