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Oct 15 2020 - 02:00 PM
Library Services, Summer 2020: (Re)Visiting Summer 1920

Bryson Library, Teachers College. General View. Summer Session. (1920) (Courtesy of Teachers College, Columbia University, Historical Photographs of Teachers College collection)


It seems to me impossible, when not completely absorbed in the present apparently endless world health crisis, and distracted by the impossibility to plan for the post-pandemic future with any degree of certainty, not to think about the state of the College and the library a century ago. I'd like to say that I've been able to get a clear fix on how things stood in 1920, and I hope to research the question further at some point, but so far I've found TC-specific reference to and consideration of the 1918 influenza pandemic, the fourth wave of which seems to have occurred in New York City and elsewhere in Spring 1920, to be surprisingly scarce.


I've found two mentions in Teachers College Record resulting from a search by the keyword "influenza." This is one, from 1919 that appeared under College News and Departmenal Notes: Foods and Cookery:


The department of foods and cookery cooperated with all other departments in the School of Practical Arts in doing emergency cookery during the epidemic of influenza. Thirty gallons of soup were furnished for several consecutive days in addition to individual orders for sick students in the neighborhood. A complete report of this work has been prepared by Professor [Isabel Maitland] Stewart, who was chairman of the committee.*


A second mention appeared under College News and Departmenal Notes: Red Cross, also in 1919:


The Teachers College Red Cross Auxiliary No. 34, has confined its efforts this year to knitting for soldiers, garment making for refugees, and campaign work in the national and local Red Cross campaigns.


The work of the War Relief Committee, under the chairmanship of Mildred E. Beam, and with the advice of Mrs. Agnes Wilson Osborne, was delayed by the epidemic of influenza and by the armistice which temporarily disconcerted all patriotic relief activities. Auxiliary No. 34 filled its quota of garments each month, however, and was put on the Honor Roll. The campaign committee canvassed Teachers College in the Christmas Red Cross Roll Call and managed two hotel booths in the city."**


Otherwise, the photograph at the beginning of this post, and the one below, say a great deal about the College community's lack of concern about limitations of public gathering and social distancing, though by all evidence the pandemic had essentially ended by Summer 1920.


Bryson Library. Waiting To Obtain Books, Summer Session. Teachers College. (1920) (Courtesy of Teachers College, Columbia University, Historical Photographs of Teachers College collection)


Like the difference between occupancy in the physical library (located on the third floor of what is now the Zankel Building; Russell Hall didn't make its appearance until 1924) in Summer 1920 and Summer 2020, the contrast between the mode of service delivery, then and now, is stark. One can only conclude that the idea of providing consultation, instruction, and standard reference service via videoconferencing, email, and live chat would have been alien and incomprehensible to students a century ago.


It seems to me that the research engagements of present day students also differ extraordinarily from what their predecessors of several generations earlier would recognize or fully take in. The following is a selected list of topics and areas of inquiry with which Teachers College students sought our consultative services this summer:


  • Online higher education and inequalities of race and class


  • Issues within virtual teams in relation to inclusion


  • Physical education teacher attitudes towards effectiveness of teaching in urban high schools


  • Interrelationships among math education, special students, teacher education, mental discipline theory, and educational technology


  • Moments of creativity wherein opportunities for conceiving self-authored ideas might be developed between teachers and students in an NYC elementary classroom


  • Dissertation research on failure


  • The role of abuse in the etiology of Borderline Personality Disorder


  • Second language acquisition and anxiety (affective filters)


  • Assistance with conducting a scoping review for arts and culture for public health -- specifically assessing incorporation of diversity and equity


  • Assistance with conducting a systematic review on perinatal experience of Muslim women both living in non-Muslim countries as well as Muslim-majority countries


  • Exploration of resources on democratic education


  • Assistance with conducting a Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) literature review in the field of second language acquisition


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


  • In Summer Sessions A and B, librarians answer 391 queries submitted via the library's email Ask a Librarian ticket system; these included reference and information questions, requests for one-on-one research consultations, questions concerning access to the library's physical space and the possibility of borrowing or returning print books in the collection, and were additional to queries fielded by Services Associates, all transacted virtually through the email query and live chat service options.


  • In the course of the summer terms, Services librarians provided research consultations for 19 students via Zoom, exploring resources and search strategies of relevance to their topics or disciplines.


  • Library Services presented two course-specific library information sessions via videoconference, for a total of 59 students.


*Teachers College Record, Volume 20, Number 1, 1919, p. 82.

**Teachers College Record, Volume 20, Number 2, 1919, p. 181.