Episode three: Dear Library

Friday, May 22, 2020

"They're better than Santa Claus, they're library staff!" — adapted from Cindy Brady

The Virtual Library Bunch

Written by Mary Lynne Bartlett (pictured left, second row)

The first two installments of The Virtual Library Bunch explored how staff have been working to adapt front-facing services and resources. Episode three, "Dear Library" looks behind-the-scenes in some of the other units across the Library. Staff have continued full force while working from home!

Dedicated staff are ensuring information and research is accessible when you need it. Special Collections & Archives (SCA) is one of the smaller units within the Library, but it has a big impact, allowing users to research and reflect on unique material from the past. Danielle Robichaud, digital archivist (pictured right, top row), is very passionate about her work. Responsible for managing the digitization of collections in SCA, Danielle makes them available online for researchers. One of the biggest challenges facing the unit during the pandemic is not having access to the physical holdings, while still virtually providing reference and instructional support. As Danielle points out, "we can never replicate online what it's like for someone to see, hold, hear or smell a one-of-a-kind item from another time period in person." Fortunately, SCA was already actively making holdings more accessible to users virtually. The Archives Database was launched in 2019, which is a web-based descriptive platform that provides information about collection holdings, allowing researchers and staff to locate records using keyword searches or browsing by thematic area. Researchers can also browse a selection of digitized items online via the Waterloo Digital Library, thus you can still make use of SCA holdings despite being unable to visit in person. If you can't find what you need, never fear — SCA staff are ready and able to make alternate suggestions that can help you accomplish your research goals from home. You can read more about what Danielle and her colleagues are up to by checking out SCA's blog that highlights what it's like to work with rare and unique collections. Many treasures can be found in SCA, including the staff working to provide innovative ways of accessing it, just like Danielle.  

Cataloguers are another group of library staff that ensure we have accurate and reliable access to resources. Updating records and cataloguing online resources has been happening for some time, so working from home was an extension of the daily work that happens in the physical library building. Cataloguers are also providing reference services through chat, instead of at the Assignment and Research Help desk. Susan Lancsak, cataloguing and metadata librarian (pictured centre, top row), shared her insights on the impact of working from home and how her unit has adapted quickly to ensure continued access to needed resources. Cataloguing staff were able to transition quickly to the virtual environment because much of their work can be done online. Staff provide effective record descriptions and proper subject analysis to facilitate accurate and effective discovery of materials. The Library recently implemented a new academic search tool, Omni. The staff side of this search tool, called Alma, is where cataloguers make the discovery of unique material possible, such as rare books and University of Waterloo theses. Omni reflects the holdings of our Library and facilitates access to not only our repositories and databases, but that of 14 other institutions across the province. As Susan points out "our Library is a gateway to knowledge." Library’s cataloguers are keeping that gateway open for us, through their continued hard work. 

"Our Library is a gateway to knowledge."

Whether archivists are documenting the COVID-19 experience for future researchers, or cataloguers are ensuring Omni is working properly, one thing is for sure, library staff are committed to making resources and services the best for you! Next week in our final episode, "the show must go on?," we interview staff who joined The Virtual Library Bunch during the pandemic. Find out what their experience has been like onboarding virtually and how they are getting situated.  

Read Episode one: The Undergraduate | Episode two: Is There a Librarian Available? | Episode four: The Show Must Go On?

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