Strictures mandated by social distancing have lent a new importance to everyday objects, such as the humble laptop.
They are no longer simply tools for binging Netflix and surfing OAKS. For many, laptops provide the sole portal to what was once normal reality: connecting with friends and family, attending class and completing coursework.
In 2020, it’s easy to take for granted that every Cougar has access to a personal computer. After a quick stroll around a pre-COVID College of Charleston campus, one would be forgiven for thinking laptops are as ubiquitous as backpacks.
That is unfortunately far from the truth. In fact, too many members of the CofC community lack consistent access to technology. But these students do have somewhere to turn: the College of Charleston Libraries.
“One of our goals during these strange times is to make sure we provide our students and faculty with all the tools they need, while not adding to the stress everyone is already under,” says Will Breard, the libraries’ circulation manager.
Since the mandatory shift to online learning, a freshly-gloved Breard has been hard at work ensuring students are able to check out the libraries’ physical resources: laptops, books, DVDs and more.
A total of 30 laptops and other items may be picked up and returned by appointment, ensuring social distancing is observed and risks minimized. These materials are immediately disinfected and quarantined before being once again made available.
During the final weeks of the spring semester — when the quarantine orders upset expected schedules— access to laptops spiked in importance.
“We helped students get online to complete their coursework and exams,” says Breard. “Once we had these initial steps down, we wanted to find a way for students and faculty to get access to our physical collections without putting themselves or our staff in danger. Our staff uses masks and gloves during the entire process.”
The impact of the libraries ranges beyond putting physical resources in Cougars’ hands. Traditional services like research consultations and information literacy instruction continue unabated in new, online forms. No matter their need, faculty and staff stand ready to help students via Zoom, online chat, email and the traditional telephone.
“It’s so helpful to have the opportunity to actually talk with a student and share screens to better explain and identify where they are at in their research process,” says Elena Rodriguez, research and instruction librarian. “And we are still working with faculty to provide support in their courses. We are able to create content to be used in both synchronous and asynchronous classroom settings. This may look like a quick video reviewing a specific concept or a more traditional ‘lecture’ for students to watch.”
The libraries’ decision to aggressively pursue online avenues of research, instruction and accessibility long predates COVID-19. In 2014, before many of their South Carolina higher-ed peers, the College of Charleston Libraries embraced emerging digital technologies and pedagogies — from e-books and streaming video services to mandatory distance education training for librarians.
As every academic department has learned over the past several months of e-learning, adaptation is key.
“Adjustments had to be made to accommodate students who were navigating working from home and going from one credit online to sometimes 18 credits online,” says Rodriguez. “As one of the librarians teaching a course online, I found myself making a more distinct effort in checking in with my students to make sure they felt supported and not overwhelmed by the shift to e-learning.”
The libraries serve to empower the campus community with resources not only for their studies, but also their curiosity and joy. Nearly one million e-books are available, and the libraries’ digital team has shared 100,000-plus items in the Lowcountry Digital Library with accompanying exhibits to interpret Charleston’s shared history.
Regardless of the circumstances, the College of Charleston Libraries remain steadfast in their mission to provide premier resources and information literacy to every user — in-person or online. Learn more about the libraries’ available resources by visiting the Ask Us page.
Featured image: Will Breard checks out a laptop at the Addlestone library circulation desk for a student during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Heather Moran)