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Jan 25 2021 - 03:51 PM
Library Services, Fall 2020: "Together in a Sudden Strangeness"

The phrase I've chosen as the theme of my Fall Semester report is taken from the title of a recent poetry anthology,* edited by Alice Quinn, a faculty member at Columbia's School of the Arts. The collection, happily, is available as an e-book via Columbia University Libraries, and I'm happy to recommend it; it features the work of a generous gathering of contemporary American poets, many of whom I already knew and liked, many of whom are new to me, and welcome finds.




Towards the end of her Introduction to the collection, Quinn writes:


In Pablo Neruda's "Keeping Quiet," the poem from which the title of this book is drawn (and which now links us back to the first phase of the pandemic, and the period of deep reflection that preceded--and perhaps prepared the ground for--the urgent outpouring of phase two), the poet wrote, "For once on the face of the earth / let's not speak in any language, / let's stop for one second . . . "


It would be an exotic moment

without rush, without engines,

we would all be together

in a sudden strangeness.


"Perhaps the earth can teach us," he writes toward the close of the poem--in Alastair Reid's translation--"as when everything seems dead / and later proves to be alive."


From the standpoint of the library services on which I'm reporting--research consultation, in-class library instruction, email and live chat reference transactions--the fall semester seemed in some respects a second phase (or maybe beyond a second phase) of the pandemic: when it became clear to us that the return to normalcy, the reopening of the physical library and the resumption of in-person service interaction, would have to be postponed. At this point we came to understand that our hurried incorporation of virtuality during the Spring and Summer terms was in effect a dress rehearsal for the establishment of what would become the primary, and ultimately organic-seeming, mode of library service delivery for the 2020-2021 academic year. It came home to all of us that the sudden worldwide strangeness would be an ongoing phenomenon, and that the spirit of unity and community with which TC students, faculty, and staff had initially (during the first phase) responded to the crisis would need to be sustained through the remainder of the year and well into the new one.


For reference and information service providers, there is a particular strangeness in the loss of face-to-face, in-person interaction with our patrons, nowhere more pronounced than at the Services Desk. But we feel the absence just as strongly in meetings with individual students to consult on their research. In this case, I've found an interesting aspect of these transactions: while actual (as opposed to virtual) consultations often largely consist of the librarian and the consultee looking at a computer screen together, meetings via videoconference involve a good deal more "face time" (what Merriam-Webster defines as "time spent in a face-to-face meeting with someone") than do in-person consultations, though mutual attention to on-screen processes, the walking through of strategies and protocols for finding and retrieving research materials via e-resources of various kinds, remains a key element of research consultations.


Perhaps strangest of all is the dynamic around our presentations to classes of various sizes; as with consultations, navigating databases (via shared screen) is a significant component of our library information sessions, but the quality of interpersonal exchange is, needless to say, radically different. I find that the essence of this difference seems to have to do with the quality of the adrenaline generated by in-person, in-class presentations, which for me involves some degree of nerves leading up to meetings with large groups of strangers, but also the positive energy resulting from (best case scenario) connecting with the participants and observing that the process is making sense to them and positively supporting their research.


What is not strange, but heartening and affirming, is the resilience of the College and and its students and faculty, and their commitment to the critical inquiry and scholarship at the heart of their endeavor are to some extent reflected in the range of classes with which we met via Zoom. These included the following:


  • Modern Philosophy and Education
  • Cognition and Computers
  • Professional Seminar: Mathematics Education
  • Consultation with Community Agencies and Organizations/School Counseling: Children and Adolescents
  • Teacher Inquiry in Bilingual Classrooms
  • Advanced Methods of Ethnography and Participant Observation: Fieldwork, Analysis, Reporting
  • Science Education Seminar
  • Comparative Education
  • Qualitative Methods in Science Education Research
  • Master's Thesis: Early Childhood Education
  • Introduction to Research Methods in International and Comparative Education
  • Research Design in Movement Science and Education
  • Preventive and Therapeutic Interventions for Diabetes
  • Master’s Project - Ed.M. in Curriculum and Teaching
  • History of Communication
  • Sociology of Education


It seems to me that another measure of the unfazed, intellectually questing spirit of the community is the variety of research topics with which the College's students sought our counsel and support, some of which follow:


  • The role of schools in suicide prevention for adolescents
  • Dietary benefits of goat dairy as a replacement for cow dairy
  • Teaching social justice to high schoolers in formal and informal learning spaces
  • Task-based language teaching and its impacts on language proficiency
  • Students and parents of color navigating in predominantly white schools
  • Teaching pragmatics with ELLs in China/youth culture and hip hop in China
  • Assessment of undergraduate nursing students (over two sessions, once via phone due to blackout where patron was located)
  • Social emotional learning and law students
  • Teaching costume design in early childhood/early elementary school environments
  • Gender gaps in perception of science education from student perspectives
  • Concept of childhood and elementary education in Nordic countries
  • Aura in artwork and art education/art education through distance learning
  • Organizational health in schools with regard to operational staff during a budget crisis
  • Exploration of resources on democratic education
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in the Philippines
  • Research on how to effectively provide feedback to parents on their parenting
  • Analyzing and summarizing assessments and interventions on either word recognition, decoding, or phonemic awareness
  • Assistance with conducting a scoping review in health education
  • Finding research on a theatrical component of a health promotion intervention and determining which strategies were most effective or captured lessons learned when using theater concerning health
  • Environmental sustainability education and development in post conflict countries
  • A dynamic system approach to the floor-sitting-rising task sequence in optimal movement system and neurodegenerative population
  • The effectiveness of read-aloud accommodations for students with decoding and mixed reading disabilities
  • CEO power dynamics, board-CEO relations, peer mentors and the role of peers at organizations
  • Research on journaling within the current education environment in the world, which is online and virtual/zoom learning, and implications for academic performance and social-emotional well-being in young children
  • The history of education research and how the science of learning has evolved
  • Bilingual education, dual language programs, and the place of native language maintenance
  • The intersection of English Education & TESOL, specifically the teaching of writing in ESL university and high school classrooms (10/21)


Finally, these are some basic statistics on research and information services delivered to students, faculty, and researchers during Fall 2020:


  • Librarians answered 391 queries submitted via the library's email Ask a Librarian ticket system; these included reference and information questions, requests for one-on-one research consultations, questions concerning access to the library's physical space and the possibility of borrowing or returning print books in the collection, and were additional to queries fielded by Services Associates, all transacted virtually through the email query and live chat service options.
  • Research and information services librarians provided 65 research consultations to individuals or small groups during the Fall.
  • Library Services presented 18 virtual course-specific library information sessions for a total of 370 students.


*Alice Quinn. (2020). Together in a Sudden Strangeness : America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic. Knopf.

Posted in: Learning at the LibraryReports|By: Allen Foresta|320 Reads