With students slated to return to campus next week, the doors of Addlestone Library are once again open. Albeit masked and socially-distanced, the campus community is looking forward to returning to some semblance of normalcy.

For the College of Charleston Libraries, the past six months have been challenging and inspiring, often at the same time. COVID-19 upended standard procedures, calling into question even basic library functions. How are books to be sanitized? Are they to be quarantined and, if so, for how long?

Many of the Libraries’ vital services also hung in the air. What’s the best way to aid students and faculty with their research when suddenly everything’s online-only? How can students safely access all the resources needed for their coursework?

Of all the places on campus, the Cistern may be more iconic, Randolph Hall statelier. But it is Addlestone Library that serves as CofC’s intellectual heartbeat and a sanctuary for students. For the Libraries’ faculty and staff, united in their dedication to a mission of service, the task felt enormous, but not impossible.

Available Virtually in all Ways

a student picks up a laptop from addlestone library

A student picks up a laptop from Addlestone Library’s Access & Instruction Desk. (Photos by Heather Moran)

The Libraries never truly “closed.” The physical premises may have been off-limits to students for much of the spring and summer, but the Libraries’ resources and services continued unabated, as “open” as ever. And after months of preparation, Addlestone Library officially opened its doors again to students for book and technology checkouts as well as individual studying on Aug. 17, 2020. Cougar Cards must be used to enter and exit the library from the Rivers Green entrance.

The story of how this was made possible is one of unsung heroes, from the facilities personnel ensuring Addlestone was safe for employees required to be on-site, to the temporary and part-time staffers guaranteeing the Libraries’ laptop lending program kept technology in the hands of Cougars when needed most.

It is also a story of the Libraries’ decision to aggressively pursue online avenues of research, instruction and accessibility long before COVID-19. In 2014, before many of their South Carolina higher-ed peers, the College Libraries embraced emerging digital technologies and pedagogies – from e-books and streaming video services to mandatory distance education training for all librarians.

Combined, the dedication of faculty and staff and prescient leadership allowed the Libraries to continue serving the campus community during the spring and summer and prepare for the fall’s hybrid semester.

“Virtual services are not new for the College of Charleston Libraries, we’ve offered online support for years. The volume of virtual requests, however, has obviously increased,” says Gretchen Scronce, Addlestone’s virtual services coordinator. “Since April, everyone at the Libraries has worked hard to ensure our virtual and in-person services are tightly integrated.”

This spans everything from contactless pickup of items to combining the research appointment scheduler with Zoom, so students immediately have the information needed to meet with a librarian or archivist at the designated time. All services are now available to students without needing to enter the library.

Special Collections, on the third floor of Addlestone and home to many of the Lowcountry’s rarest materials, also had to think outside the box.

“Operating Special Collections and the South Carolina Historical Society Archives Reading Room presented several unique challenges,” says Mary Jo Fairchild, Special Collection’s manager of research services. “Hand sanitizer and centuries-old paper do not mix!”

a student takes a book from a bookshelf in addlestone library

A student takes a book from a bookshelf in Addlestone Library, which opened again to students on Aug. 17.

With a focus on health and safety, Special Collections launched new protocols to guide the handling of requests and accommodations for in-person research, including quarantining archival collections after each use. Through extended digital access and online instruction, Special Collections also directly supported students and faculty during the transition to the remote learning period.

Threading through all the challenges faced by the Libraries was a commitment to not only uphold its fundamental mission of serving students and faculty, but to use the pandemic as an opportunity to try new things.

From a Wikipedia edit-a-thon to expand the region’s LGBTQ history to attendance record-shattering Zoom events hosted by the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, the Libraries looked to the future while remaining steadfast in providing resources and information literacy to every patron – in-person or online.

Even projects that, at first glance, seemed to be sundered by safety restrictions were creatively reimagined to allow them to continue apace.

“I co-advised, along with professor Matthew Cressler, two religious studies research fellows, AJ Williams and Allen Duggar, in an archives-centric research project that aims to tell the religious history of the College,” Fairchild says. “Set into motion prior to the pandemic, AJ and Allen dived into College archives remotely to investigate the intersection of Christianity and slavery in the origins of the College.”

Adaptation is the Key

The Libraries learned over the past six months that, regardless of the circumstances, commitment and creativity can overcome any challenge.

a student goes through self-checkout at addlestone library

A student goes through self-checkout at Addlestone Library.

“We are incredibly grateful for the work of our faculty and staff during these unpredictable months, demonstrating that, even in a global pandemic, students and professors can rely on the Libraries,” says John White, dean of College Libraries. “As we prepare to welcome everyone back to campus, our work continues to protect the health and safety of every patron while providing the excellent services our community deserves.”

Back in April, before the mandates and strictures of a post-COVID “new normal,” one item in Addlestone Library made clear that these were strange times indeed: the humble book cart.

Traditionally used to transport books from depositories to their homes in the stacks, the cart had been placed at Addlestone’s employee entrance. Atop it was not the usual books, but an economy-sized bottle of hand sanitizer.

In a time of upheaval and uncertainty, adaptation is key.

Welcome back, Cougars – the College Libraries are here for you.

To learn more about changes to Addlestone Library for the Fall 2020 semester, check out the College Libraries’ page in the Back on the Bricks plan.