Previously scheduled to reopen to on-campus students on September 7, the doors to Hawthorne-Longfellow Library remain temporarily closed as campus status remains in orange. However, that does not mean library staff have not been busy behind the scenes—they have been doing everything from revamping the online delivery system to wrapping up dozens of books in brown paper bags for on-campus pick-up.
The library take-out service, available for faculty, staff and on-campus students, is among a slate of measures introduced by the library since the College transitioned to online learning. Special attention has been devoted to strengthening virtual resources across the board, from expanding the digital delivery service to setting up chat boxes and daily Zoom drop-ins with the research librarians.
Associate Librarian for Research, Instruction and Outreach Erin Valentino explained that the library has worked hard to provide a robust support system for all students, regardless of their physical location.
“No matter where a student is, we can deliver content to them digitally,” Valentino said in a video interview with the Orient. “Students can be anywhere in the world [and] request material.”
Digital delivery, which used to mainly cover articles and chapters from Interlibrary Loan (ILL) content, has expanded to include all books and materials from Bowdoin’s own collection as well, which means students can access resources for classes and research with ease. Though copyright restrictions limit the total number of pages that can be scanned and delivered, students can request scanned tables of contents and can work with librarians to help navigate the process.
Interlibrary Loan Supervisor Guy Saldanha explained that the system aims to maximize the accessibility and equity of resource sharing.
“A lot of thinking went in, for example, [as to] how to provide equity to students who are off campus to ensure that they have the same degree of service as students who were on campus, and to make sure that we provided special support for students who were engaged in higher-level research,” said Saldanha in a phone interview with the Orient.
Additionally, those students pursuing honors projects and independent studies that are not residing on campus have the option to receive physical books from Colby, bates and Bowdoin libraries through a newly launched service called “CBB by Mail.” Valentino also emphasized that the library is able to cater to students’ research needs on an individual basis, including the purchase of additional materials or e-books if needed.
“We try to buy things that support students, what students are doing in courses and faculty research, but sometimes someone’s research is very specialized,” said Valentino. “We can’t cover everything, but we do welcome anyone’s suggestion about what we should purchase.”
Though the library has sought out many creative ways to ease the transition, Saldanha noted that the process is inadvertently impacted by logistical issues such as library closures in many of Bowdoin’s partner institutions, resulting in a slower turn-around time for scarce and specialty items.
“Many libraries were unable to even accept packages, and a lot of institutions are still not back in business,” he said. “I would say only about 20 percent of academic institutions are lending again—the pandemic has had quite a devastating effect on resource sharing.”
Since the pandemic hit, libraries across the country have been operating with significantly reduced staffing; most of the librarians at Bowdoin are working remotely, and the number of student employees has gone down from approximately 150 to between 20 and 30. Saldanha works with a small team of three Bowdoin students to process hundreds of requests for ILL.
Spencer Follett ’22, along with his two colleagues Cameron MacKenzie ’22 and Jeremy Hoyne Grosvenor ’22, have been working hard to cover the borrowing, lending and distributing of ILL items. Follett, in his role as the senior borrowing strategist, is normally tasked with locating some of the more obscure items that are requested; this semester, he is doing so remotely from Pismo Beach, California.
“Generally the remote work has been relatively easy to do. It’s just been a matter of getting back into work that I haven’t done for six months and also trying to cope with the new rules and regulations for using it this semester, and who can get what books and which libraries can lend books,” Follett said in a phone interview with the Orient.
Once arrived, the books and materials will then go through a three-day quarantine period as recommended by Maine state protocols and the latest research on COVID-19.
“We have information about how long a virus lives [on different surfaces] and so based on that, we’ve decided on a three-day course. And then we can make them available to students and faculty. This is to protect [not only] students and faculty but also staff who are handling this material,” said Valentino.
Despite the many measures they have taken to cope with the virtual semester, the library staff are nonetheless looking forward to welcoming some students back into their physical locations. Those on campus will be able to rejoin their peers in their favorite study spaces, including the Beckwith Music Library, Hatch Science Library and Pierce Art Library, once campus status turns to yellow.
With social distancing protocols and methods to de-densify workspaces, Valentino hopes to soon re-embrace the treasured social aspect of the library and see students back among the carrels and shelves.
“It’s really a joyful work that we have here,” Valentino said. “When we are able to open we are going to be so excited to see the students here and to welcome the students into the library.”