When it comes to the McGill Library, appearances can be deceiving. While its doors have been locked since the middle of March, the Library’s 180 staff have been hard at work behind the scenes, serving users, creating virtual resources, cataloguing new items, and helping to ease the stress of self-isolation.
As McGill’s situation continues to evolve in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, so does the Library’s response. For Trenholme Dean of Libraries Colleen Cook and her team, it’s been all hands on deck.
“Supporting our McGill community is one of the most important things the Library can do right now,” says Cook. “The Library is here to serve everyone. Even though you can’t come to us, the Library can continue to come to you in different ways.”
As remote teaching and learning was rolled out at McGill, virtual reference services were ramped up quickly. Each week, librarians handle some 700 questions and article requests from students, staff and faculty via chat, email or text. Subject-specific librarians continue to be available for in-depth consultative support and research assistance.
Librarians have also provided valuable support to instructors teaching online. A Teaching Services portal allows users to access online materials in the Library’s collection, locate open educational resources/open textbooks in a specific subject discipline, and acquire online versions of print course materials.
Of the 7.5 million items in the McGill Library’s collection, 3.7 are available electronically. Add to this 1,913 databases and you have a robust collection for remote learning and research. An average of 6,930 local and international users continue to search the Library catalogue on a daily basis. Over the past month, 50,000 new items have been catalogued and added to the e-collection. Library staff have also created a listing of e-resources that publishers are offering for free over the next few months.
At a time such as this, libraries provide what award-winning writer, critic and bibliophile Alberto Manguel describes as a “haven of sanity”, offering “comfort in this mad world of ours”. In a moving video – The Library as Safe Haven – the first in a series produced by Rare & Special Collections, Osler, Art, and Archives (ROAAr), Manguel explores some of its most beautiful and important items.
During the current pandemic, staff at the Library have created an online safe haven for users – one that offers up some enriching and entertaining community outreach activities.
When the Library’s closure forced the cancellation of an exhibition of riddling practices, scheduled to open the following week, the Rare Books & Special Collections team created a digital exhibition, Food Riddles and Riddling Ways.
The exhibit is part of the Library’s Quartex initiative, an Artificial Intelligence pilot project that opens up the potential for digital exhibitions showcasing items in the Library’s collection, free of charge and accessible to anyone in the world with an online connection.
For those with an interest in weather, climate science and history, there is an opportunity to participate in DRAW (Data Rescue: Archival and Weather), an interdisciplinary project involving McGill researchers and students in the Faculties of Science and Arts, and from the Library and Archives. The aim of the initiative is to make the meteorological data from the McGill Observatory, founded in 1863, digitally available for scientific analysis through a citizen science web platform.
The Visual Arts Collection is also reaching out to the community remotely, with a digital edition of its popular De-Stress + Sketch sessions. Each Sunday for the upcoming few weeks you can visit the Library’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts for an image of the featured artwork, which you can sketch or be inspired by, along with a specially curated music playlist on the Library’s Spotify account.
The Library has come up with an ideal antidote for the stress and uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic: a Self-Isolation Care Package. Here you will find carefully curated lists of the Library staff’s favourite e-books, go-to podcasts, virtual museum tours, recipes, or Netflix binge recommendations.
Given the anxious time we are living through, the Library has put together a list of health and wellness eBooks that offer up some helpful coping tools. Staff in the Nahum Gelber Law Library have also assembled a new Wellness Guide aimed at helping students develop a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
For many students, the Library is a special part of their McGill experience. To help students feel connected while working remotely, the Library has created some library-themed and campus Zoom backgrounds. These have been very well received on social media and other channels, with one grateful student writing: “These are exactly what I need. They make me realize how much I miss studying in the Library.”