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May 30 2020 - 04:28 PM
Library Services, Spring 2020: A Sea Change in Service Delivery?



In Spring 1988, the Teachers College library (at that time Milbank Memorial Library) produced a publication titled “An Almanac for the First Century”; the work was compiled by library director Jane P. Franck with the assistance of other library staff members. (A digital copy of the work can be found at https://pk.tc.columbia.edu/item/The-Milbank-Memorial-Library-An-Almanac-For-The-First-Century-69169 in the library’s online archive PocketKnowledge.)  The publication provides a timeline for the history of the College and the library and details ways in which their trajectories intersected; as Mrs. Franck writes, the work intended “to pay tribute to the remarkable relationship of the Library and the College that has resulted in one of the finest collections to link the past, present and future in education.”


I want to focus on the last two pages of the Almanac, which are a page of text facing a photograph of the first and second floors of the library as they appeared in the late 1980s. The text covers events and developments from 1986 (the year after I began working at the library) and 1988 and details a mix of news about the acquisition of materials (primarily manuscripts and archive collections), events (mainly teleconferences) sponsored in part by the library, and the arrival at the library of several new technologies, including the ERIC database on CD ROM, a public access serials control system, and a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf.


I’m particularly intrigued by the photograph, which captures features of the library some years gone. At the time, a stairway connected the first and second floors, located roughly halfway from the entrance to the back of each floor. On the second floor can be seen study tables and carrels, some built-in shelving on the courtyard side of the floor, and metal shelving on the right to accommodate current and bound periodicals, as well as an overflow of reference books from the first floor.


The view of the first floor shows index tables on the left, the main reference shelves on the right, and a glimpse of the reference desk, which was the main feature one saw straight ahead (though at some distance) upon entering the first floor of the library.


What’s striking to me about the photograph is that all of the print materials, including current and bound journals, periodical indexes, and general and specialized reference books, have disappeared from our library. At present, we subscribe only to e-journals and have withdrawn retrospective print volumes of journals from the collections. Additionally, we rely entirely on online periodical indexes, and whatever reference works were previously gathered on the reference shelves have either been transferred to the main stacks or been superseded by their online equivalents, accessible either through our library’s e-holdings or those of Columbia University Libraries.


The sea change in collections format has been paralleled by the transformation of service provision; while in the mid- to late 1980s reference interchanges were primarily transacted in person, on the phone, or by correspondence, a great deal of our current service delivery is done by means of email or videoconference, and we’ve recently experimented with a live chat option.


These developments have served the library and the community of library users well during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the once revolutionary notion of a primarily digital library seems to have realized itself during the current crisis. It’s interesting to speculate on how we’ll emerge on the other side of the current shutdown of the physical library; whether print collections and on-site services will begin to be relegated to the category of outdated ideas about how libraries operate or should operate. My hope would be that print resources and in-person service provision will never become obsolete, but as with much else about how we’ve lived our lives in academia (and in life in general) and will live them in the future, there’s a great deal that seems very much To Be Determined.


One unaltered constant about library services, however, is the reality of our users’ need for assistance with their research and their readiness to enlist our help. The following is a selected list of topics and areas of inquiry with which Teachers College students about which we were privileged this Spring to consult:


  • professional development practices in private school leadership


  • sitting, posture, and myofascial pain


  • how biology teacher education has prepared (or not) new teachers to culture, keep, and study living organisms with their students 


  • inpatient study of caregiver smoking: interventions that have and have not worked


  • aspects and ramifications of student debt


  • the correlation between exposure to violence and adolescents and suicidal behavior, both suicidal ideation and suicide attempts


  • identifying funding from NIH and NSF in support of engineering education in secondary schools


  • children, time, and temporality


  • information about independent schools and/or all-girls schools and sex education


  • Bahamian national identity


  • failure and self-efficacy


  • Ph.D. candidates of color and mental health


  • how the parent premium (or support from one's parents/guardians) impacts first generation college students


  • how ideas of peace and education for peace are being understood in a post-colonial context


  • artificial intelligence and its application in the HR field, specifically coaching


  • identifying learning strategies that impact tactical and incident command decision-making in a high-threat situation


  • how leaders perceive their growth in a formalized 18-month executive development program; stages of adult development (where do they start and do they experience a shift); what are the triggering events for the shifts, and what are the habits of mind that change as a result of these shifts


  • the involvement of TC faculty members in educational development in China in the 1920s and 30s


  • teaching cultural objects in art museum/museum education


  • African American women and health


  • mentorship and adult learning/education; mentoring young/recent alumni


  • how financial aid admissions policies (i.e. need-blind vs. need-sensitive) affect socioeconomic, class, and racial diversity on college campuses


  • affect theory and disability/special education/inclusion


  • seeking histories of teaching literature in American secondary schools


  • the relative efficacy of Fitbit and other fitness trackers


  • seeking articles/accounts written by Lee Lorch about his work with Black students and his alliance with Black mathematicians


  • online course design


  • culturally relevant teaching and museum education


  • challenges and opportunities of incorporating visual programming such as Scratch in a middle school classroom by the teachers


  • creativity and its intersection with curriculum or teaching


  • developing critical consciousness in the college students who participate in service learning opportunities


  • challenges of online art education/online studio courses


  • research around science teacher discursive identity development in online professional learning communities


  • how CEOs describe their learning, what facilitators and barriers In their continued learning and what triggers them to want to learn


  • the impact of art on students with trauma-impacted developmental/behavioral issues


  • mental health issues for healthcare workers during times of pandemic/epidemic/crisis


Finally, these are some basic statistics on research and information services delivered to students, faculty, and researchers during Spring 2020:


  • Services librarians fielded 1,564 in-person and telephone reference queries, with significant important additional service interactions of all kinds by front-line Services Associates serving at the Services Desk.


  • Library Services librarians received and responded to 666 queries of various kinds submitted via the library’s email Support Request service, in addition to a growing number of queries handled by Services Associates.


  • Research and information services librarians provided 57 research consultations to individuals or small groups during the Spring.


  • Library Services presented four course-specific library information sessions, either in the classroom or in library spaces, for a total of 41 students.