Image credit: (Lambert & 26, Kenton County Public Library and Coronavirus (COVID-19) 2020)
Recently I was asked a straightforward yet complex question: when everything is available on the internet 24/7, why do we need librarians? I took a pause and yet firmly I replied: We need librarians more now than ever before. Well, I did provide support and evidence to my bold statement then. However, later, I asked myself: what makes people think that the role of librarians is fading? I wondered, pondered for days and this is what I came up with:
Last year, in March 2020, we saw schools and colleges shutting down and suddenly the teaching community started gearing itself for online teaching and learning so that it could upskill and adjust to the novel situation and changing times. For a few days, we librarians too joined them to learn what and how the online teaching would look like or function. With them, we too started learning new terms: synchronous learning, asynchronous learning, learning management software, blended learning, hybrid learning, virtual learning, simulations, virtual field trips, Netiquette… Soon teachers started to leverage these technology tools into their virtual classrooms via their laptops, tabs or mobile phones. Covid 19 obviously increased the workload of teachers as they had to modify their lesson plans, bring changes in the delivery of instruction, and at the same time learn to engage students in online classes.
Surprisingly many librarians had to switch roles too and push the familiar boundaries further in order to reach out and support teachers. With limited resources at the onset, we started to collect digital resources and curated them on different hurriedly chosen platforms. With new adaptations and amendments that came from the International Baccalaureate Organization; I realised that I had to be creative and proactive in reaching out to my students and teachers.
It was not only me but librarians all over reached out to students and teachers informing them and reminding them that though the physical libraries were closed we were still available to help. The fixed stationary space that they were accustomed to so far had unintentionally disappeared and rather than them coming to us librarians, we had to find a way to reach them. We soon realized that communication became the key to providing support and resources during these unprecedented times. We were able to locate and curate digital resources, however, accessibility remained a challenge. Moreover, we had to advertise them in order to inform the students and teacher groups. We saw ourselves in a new role of constant and continuous communication, even more than ever before, via email, messenger, forums. for fear of becoming disconnected and disengaged from our very earnest patrons.
In order to keep up with the pace during the tough times, we made efforts to upskill ourselves too by participating in various webinars, seminars and workshops. In addition to this, many librarians and organizations took up the challenge and opportunity to host their own webinars and apparently, they were not enough. I don’t think I have ever attended so many webinars in person as I did virtually during the past year. Consequently, the librarian community started reaching out to each other and suddenly like-minded people started coming together and sharing their concerns, ideas, plans and practices. Soon enough, I saw myself networking with librarians across the globe (Australia, Sri Lanka, US, Bangladesh) to understand and learn from their circumstances or guidance.
Soon afterwards the many publishers joined us earnestly. To bridge the digital divide, they opened their resources and platforms for free, albeit, on a temporary basis. Teachers welcomed these additional resources and used them as supplementary materials for their lessons.
Gradually countries began cautiously reopening from the imposed harsh lockdowns, yet it was evident that we were not out of the woods from all the uncertainty generated by this covid situation. The pandemic in all likelihood, is not over and probably it is here to stay for a long time and this makes me wonder what will be our role in the future? How will we still continue our supporting role in the teaching and learning process? What different kinds of hats will we have to wear? What will our libraries finally look like?
These introspections time and again make me ponder, on the way forward. Clearly, we need to embrace the current extraordinary times, the myriad changes brought on to us fortuitously, pursue the positive and beneficial operation and functioning further until we get digital. Personally, while nostalgic, I somehow believe that there has been a gradual internalization of the external transformation and I hope that this very process allows us all to evolve via intensive and extensive changes in our role adapting ourselves for the new services and demands of our profession.
Here are a few lessons I learnt in 2020:
Reinvent – Demonstrate more value to the institution. Challenge yourself and accept the challenges as opportunities. Take on new roles and initiatives and show creativity to think beyond the set roles and responsibilities. Here this pandemic becomes a blessing in disguise.
Relearn- Unlearn, learn and relearn concepts that are emerging in this digital era. Prepare to work in libraries or spaces that are revisioning the notion of teaching and learning. Look for opportunities that will help to leverage the technology to promote instruction.
Rethink and redesign – Libraries have always been places of learning and discussions and we have always welcomed patrons with open arms. Start rethinking about the physical vs virtual space.
Reimagine-This pandemic has taught us the importance of collaboration. Across the globe libraries and librarians came forward and participated in various networks or support groups. Continue to collaborate and function together as a closer-knit community.
Reevaluate- While some institutions are gearing themselves to adopt the new technological developments so that they can provide new models of approaching teaching and learning. We may have to rethink and come up with new strategies of reaching out to our patrons with whom we have built one to one rapport for such a long time. Time will tell what will be the best form of support but that means we have to try different approaches until we settle on the few best ones.
Reflect- Looking at the future, we may have to reflect on what type of collection we need to add to our libraries. Moreover, we need to think of new ways of reaching our patrons, we will have to evolve, develop new services and innovate.
This pandemic did overwhelm us into considerable thinking about a lot of things. It made us accept the new situation and the challenges that will eventually pave the way to a better future digital library space of which we as librarians belong yet are not fully aware of how and what it will end up being or looking like yet. As for me, I am somehow reminded of the fifth law of library science – Library is a growing organism – which I during my formation could not fully fathom but now have come to readily accept as the new normal.
Article contributed by Ms Sakhvir L