Although Special Collections and Archives (SCUA) staff provided virtual research and instructional support throughout the pandemic, the transition from having our doors closed to the public for so long to inviting the community back into our reading room has been an adjustment. Several SCUA staff worked on site in the library throughout the worst of the Covid epidemic, serving as critical liaisons between researchers and collections. During the Spring 2020 Semester, when almost all classes were online, our reading room was closed to the public, but we permitted researchers to schedule visits by appointment and continued to find innovative ways of meeting our community’s needs. As the Fall 2021 Semester approached, and the chancellor emphasized the need for an on-campus experience for students, we began planning on how to best meet our campus’ needs and open our doors to the public.
Maximizing student success is a priority for us, and the department has risen to engage the challenges of meeting students’ educational needs during the pandemic. Before Covid, we provided over a hundred instructional sessions per semester, most of which were in-person. Adapting to the shift to online learning during the 2020-2021 school year, we modified many in-person classes into virtual sessions, and with the resuming of in-person classes in the 2021-2022 school year, we adapted, yet again, to provide the safest instructional experience possible for our students.
Many instructors with whom we collaborate feel that the experience of physically interacting with archival materials is crucial to the learning outcomes for their students. At the beginning of the Fall 2021 semester, we developed a strategy to accommodate instructors to the best of our abilities in order to ensure students would be able to experience archival research-based learning. Space was our greatest limitation — with spacing at the required three foot distance apart, the Hodges Reading Room, where we hold the lecture portion of instruction, could only seat fifteen students. Our Researcher Room, where we conduct hands-on exercises, could only support two students per table. This required limiting class size to fifteen students for one SCUA instructor, or doubling instructors and dividing classes. Larger classes certainly have required a degree of choreography to maneuver, but both students and instructors are delighted to return to the archive.
In addition to classes, we are once again open to walk-in researchers, and have provided support for many academics during this semester already. With the closure of most archives during the pandemic and the lack of safety until the development of a vaccine, many scholars dependent on primary source material for their research were limited greatly in terms of academic publishing. Although we remained open by appointment for researchers, travel has been challenging for many scholars, especially those with home and family obligations. Knowing that many people would be reengaging their scholarship, we are pleased to open our doors to the public, though for the sake of safety, we limit the number of researchers at any one time to four people.
During these times of strain and uncertainty, our department discovered creative ways of affirming our department’s mission of promoting research-based learning and making materials accessible. Through the persistent uncertainty, we will continue to collaborate with instructors and find creative ways of promoting learning and providing research support.