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Some observations from the field a few weeks into “the new normal” . . .

April 7, 2020

I had intended to focus on information literacy for my first CRD post, but with the unprecedented changes necessitated by COVID 19, I’ll save that topic for another time.

For these past few weeks, I, like many academic librarians, have concerned myself with providing resources and services online ant reaching out to students and faculty as they scramble to teach, learn, and research, all using a new and hastily assigned playbook.  For me and probably others, the  most easily identified part of that process has been “skilling up” on various newly adopted tools.  For many of us, too, there is the remote location aspect.  Work from home, get familiar with some new software–how hard could it be?  I thought of my long list of projects that I typically chip away at, stealing ten minutes here, a half hour there.  It would, I thought, be so much easier to tackle.

After a week, I began informally comparing notes with colleagues.  After passing the two-week mark, I’m finding that I’m not alone in many of my experiences.  Sharing how it’s going has been cathartic.  The value in recounting is in providing an “early stage” platform for discussion.  The more venues to talk together in various groupings about how it’s going, the better.  And, I suspect, it’s a good first step in understanding how to best move forward.  With that in mind, here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Sitting for hours at a stretch at a computer is hard work and leads to a sore back. Like many other colleagues, I thought I just didn’t have a comfortable chair.  I felt a bit like Goldilocks, trying out my options, until I realized it wasn’t a matter of the proper chair–it’s getting up, stretching, doing planks or squats or walking the dog or washing a few dishes.

Sitting for hours (are you noticing a trend already?) at a stretch staring at a screen leads to headaches and eye strain.  Fiddling with the screen brightness, stepping away intermittently, or using inexpensive glasses that filter blue rays are all advisable to combat too much computer gazing.

Though there are less interruptions, it’s still difficult to get everything done. I thought I’d be SOOOO productive when encountering fewer distractions.  I’m getting a lot of work completed, but I’m not conquering my To Do List at the rate I’d anticipated.  The big lesson is that there will always be another task on the list before you get much crossed off.  And, of course, point-of-need service to patrons always comes first.

Skilling up requires patience, practice, and more practice. While I am determined to triumph over each new product designed to assist in delivery of resources and/or services, these last weeks have been humbling.  I appreciate a well-run (and patient) IT department and colleagues who are always happy to assist.

Loss of camaraderie and daily contact with colleagues makes for a very long work day. I knew my subconscious was up to something when I became fixated on having my dog show up for a small committee Skype meeting.  I really wanted to make my team laugh!  When another puppy showed up soon after (with several sets of hands visible maneuvering her into place and offering treats), I understood it wasn’t just me that needed some fun.  Another colleague opined that the serendipity of bumping into folks in hallways (en route to meetings, restrooms, lunches) was a loss of chance contact with people you don’t always work with; sometimes brief conversations led to discoveries of something new, a common interest, or a new approach to a situation.

There’s an emotional toll.  I’m worried about students, especially.   My university, like so many others, continues to work to address issues of food insecurity and homelessness.  Several new initiatives have been quickly launched to reach out and offer support.  The correlation of the spread of COVID 19 and social inequity is more and more apparent, distressing, and heartbreaking.  I’m doing what I can in this moment, but it’s increasingly clear that these efforts, though combined with those of many others, will likely be inadequate.

When I step away from the work at hand and think about the huge changes, I’m wondering how we are all doing.  While there are sure to be conferences, articles, webinars, and more offered about the various aspects of moving academic library resources and services online (in general or in specific circumstances), I’m most concerned that we don’t wait too long to debrief.  So consider this akin to a wave from a colleague from a virtual hallway: How’s it going?  I hope you are okay.

C&CS Presents: Health Information for Distance Learning, April 21 at 1pm EST

April 6, 2020

C&CS Presents

Health Information for Distance Learning

with Bradley A. Long and Kate Flewelling

April 21 at 1pm EST

Click here for Zoom registration link


As nearly all academic training and support has moved to remote learning, supporting students and faculty in health sciences programs can be a challenge. At the same time, many librarians are worried about their own health and the health of their families. Two experienced academic health sciences librarians will provide tips and resources for supporting health sciences programs and finding high quality health information remotely.

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Brad Long

Bradley A. Long is the Embedded Health Sciences Librarian for the Penn State College of Medicine’s University Park Regional Campus.  He has over 25 years of experience in medical librarianship, in both academic and clinical settings. Bradley has experience in reference and instructional services, curriculum development, consumer health and patient education, distance education, and collection development.  He is currently the Chair of the Medical Library Association’s Libraries in Health Sciences Curriculum Caucus and serves on Doody Enterprises’ Library Board of Advisors.



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Kate Flewelling

Kate Flewelling is the Executive Director of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Middle Atlantic Region, based at the University of Pittsburgh. After beginning her career as an Associate Fellow at the National Library of Medicine, she was Coordinator of Instruction for the SUNY Upstate Medical University Health Sciences Library. In 2017, she was named one of 50 Distinguished Alumni of the School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She is the current Chair of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Medical Library Association.

ACRL Presents: Information Literacy at a (Social) Distance: Strategies for Moving Online

April 3, 2020

As the coronavirus continues to make headlines worldwide, numerous webinars have been presented on how to address the needs and inquiries of our students and patrons while working remotely.  To help with easing myself into the transition from working on campus to hibernating and eating every twenty minutes assisting students from the comfort of my living room personal computer (complete with candles, chillhop relaxing beats, and glowing cat), I recently viewed ACRL’s presentation of “ACRL Presents: Information Literacy at a (Social) Distance: Strategies for Moving Online” presented on March 17, 2020, by Melissa A. Wong, an instructor at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This hour-long webinar provides general strategies for moving your information literacy instructing online while ensuring that no student is left behind. Wong encourages instructors to teach how they are most comfortable but to keep your expectations reasonable. Start from where you are and keep it simple. Do not do more than you can handle or accommodate. Wong advises against developing a completely online course because of this pandemic but to just make tweaks and small changes to your current lesson plan to get your students through the remainder of the semester. (Do you have LibGuides? Tutorial videos?) Give yourself permission to stop at “good enough.” Assume that students are trying to access your content from their smartphones when planning your instruction. Be sure to make your content accessible for students with disabilities.

Keep in mind that your students are stressed and apprehensive right now, too, and the last thing they might care about is information literacy. Wong says that is alright. Students have been throw unexpectedly out from their dorms and into online education. Many students are now homeschooling their children, which can make it difficult to focus on their own coursework. Unemployment has become a consistent and enormous stress factor across the country. Still, others do not have access to broadband width and high-speed Internet, especially for those students living in rural communities. Additionally, many students may now be forced to share devices with other family members. All of these factors can contribute to making online learning a rather nail-baiting, worrisome experience.

Wong proposes that there are two ways in which to present your online instruction: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous would include everyone joining in on a Zoom meeting or in Google Hangouts. The instruction occurs in real-time. The advantages to this are that you can use existing lectures for instruction and the discussion is happening in real-time so you can answer students’ questions. Also, during this time of social distancing, synchronous instruction fosters and maintains a sense of community, allowing for simultaneous and spontaneous conversation. However, higher broadband is required for these real-time meetings, which might be a huge issue for those who do not have access. There might be limited mobile access. Additionally, there is a learning curve with some of the synchronous technology, which I, for one, have discovered while trying to use Zoom on my computer. My web camera will not hook up and I have no idea why!

Asynchronous, on the other hand, is instruction not involving real-time discussion. This would include previously filmed tutorial videos and assignments distributed through the students’ blackboard. The advantages of choosing this form of instruction are that lower bandwidth is usually required, it is more mobile-friendly, you can recycle content, and it is easy to replicate the instruction for future use. Students can log in at any time to complete the assignments, and they are most likely already using familiar tools within their blackboard. On the flip side, students might not be as motivated to engage with the instruction and with one another, and this can result in the potential loss of community.

So which instruction is right for you? Wong reminds us to consider campus requirements and to definitely not overwhelm students with too much information. Be sure of legalities. For instance, it is legally required to close-caption your videos. Unfortunately, most caption software is only 90% accurate, so Wong encourages you to do automated captions and then go back to edit them. I also never thought of those students who might be colorblind, because I am the Queen of All Colors and adore typing in different colors and breaking out the highlighters. Wong warns not to use different colors in your notes for this reason.

No doubt this a stressful time with new territory and each other’s backs to cover. It is an understatement to proclaim that we are currently tackling an unprecedented situation, the likes of which we probably have not seen since the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, but should have been better prepared to deal with when it happened again, as is the nature of pandemics, especially in such a technological world of high standards. Nonetheless, we need to stick together while staying physically apart as we ride out this virus.


Resources for Keeping Patrons in the Know About COVID-19

March 30, 2020

COVID-19 is an infection caused by a novel coronavirus that leads to a respiratory illness which can spread from person to person. COVID-19 continues to spread globally. This post is a guide to academic resources on the topic, and also general information to help our communities be well-informed.


Map of confirmed cases in the state of Pennsylvania by counties as of 26 March 2020.




Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

National Library of Medicine (NLM)

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

U.S. Food & Drug Administration

World Health Organization

European Union

Government of Canada

Content adapted from CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) RESOURCE GUIDE by Sarah Hughes, Nursing, Biology, and Health Sciences Librarian, Villanova University

Homeschool with A Baker’s Dozen Booklist and Activities

March 30, 2020

In these stay-at-home days of the coronavirus pandemic, A Baker’s Dozen booklist is a valuable online resource for teachers and guardians of preschoolers who are in search of educational materials and have books available via e-libraries, YouTube read-along posts, etc.

A Baker’s Dozen: The Best Children’s Books for Family Literacy highlights 13 fiction/nonfiction picture books selected by the Pennsylvania (PA) Center for the Book at Penn State University Libraries each year. Those chosen must be published in the previous year and go through a rigorous selection process to ensure text and illustrations within support the interests and developmental milestones of children ages three-to-six (with many titles suitable independent-reads for those seven and eight-years-old).

This is an illustrative image of the website for the booklist, A Baker's Dozen: The Best Children's Books for Family Literacy
A Baker’s Dozen on the PA Center for the Book website

The website houses booklists by year from 2004 to 2019, with 2020 forthcoming, that are annotated with summaries, tips, and activities. Families, caregivers, and educators can discuss the concept of remembering with kids by referring to thought bubbles on the pages of Teddy’s Favorite Toy, for example – a book by Christian Trimmer, illustrated by Madeline Valentine (Atheneum) from the 2019 Baker’s Dozen.

Or while exploring the 2014 Baker’s Dozen book Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley (Peter Pauper Press), “…adults can ask children what they would do if they found an egg like Hank did. How would they take care of the egg? Adults can allow children to touch and hold a hard-boiled egg. What words would children use to describe the egg? What would happen if the egg was not handled gently?”

Tips and annotations provide instructions on emphasizing words and phrases to further age-appropriate core learning concepts, as well as hands-on activities. Books that rise to the top of the selection jury’s picks have readable fonts, natural and repetitive phrasing, amply and evenly spaced formatting, illustrations that extend text concepts, a diversity of appealing topics for families, and/or a smooth cadence for reading aloud.

A snapshot of the Baker's Dozen website shows a summary and tips for Hello, Door
by Alastair Heim, Illustrated by Alisa Coburn from the 2019 booklist.
Summary & Tips for “Hello, Door” by Alastair Heim, illustrated by Alisa Coburn

So while huddled inside, try A Baker’s Dozen to warm and enrich the space for young ones with more than just sweet treats from the oven! Be sure to revisit A Baker’s Dozen online in the coming months for the latest 2020 titles!

A Baker’s Dozen is administered by PA Center for the Book Director, Karla M. Schmit, with team members Caroline Wermuth, James McCready, and a dedicated jury of experts on children’s literature.

The PA Center for the Book—sponsored by Barbara I. Dewey, dean of University Libraries and Scholarly Communications, and Penn State State University Libraries—is an affiliate of the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress. It encourages PA’s citizens and residents to study, honor, celebrate and promote books, reading, libraries and literacy.

For more information, visit the PA Center for the Book website or contact Caroline Wermuth (, outreach coordinator.

C&CS Presents: Setting the Stage for Civic-Minded Education: Collaborative Approaches to Instruction, April 16th at 12pm EST

March 25, 2020

C&CS Presents:

Setting the Stage for Civic-Minded Education: Collaborative Approaches to Instruction

with Jen Bonnet and Lily Herakova

April 16th at 12pm EST

Register here for the Zoom login information (free!)


For the past four years, Lily Herakova and Jen Bonnet have been collaborating to shape and assess an information literacy curriculum for a large enrollment Public Speaking course. This presentation focuses on what we have learned about the relationships among students’ self-efficacies and skills in information literacy, public speaking, and civic-mindedness. We will share the results of several studies, and invite participants to engage with the practical applications we have developed.

Jen Bonnet and Lily Herakova

Black and white photo of Jen Bonnet and Lily Herakova

Jen Bonnet is a foster parent, educator, baker (although she has miles to go before she’s as skilled as Lily), and outdoor enthusiast. As a Social Sciences and Humanities librarian at the University of Maine, she engages in a wide range of outreach, instruction, consultation, and research. She has published with Lily Herakova in the Association of College and Research Libraries 2019 conference proceedings, Basic Communication Course Annual, and Journal of Academic Librarianship.

Lily Herakova is a mother, teacher, immigrant, baker, writer, and community organizer. She is an Assistant Professor and Graduate Teaching Coordinator in the Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of Maine. Her work focuses on communication’s potential to bring about equitable, just, and inclusive worlds/communities, especially in educational and health-related contexts. She has published and presented nationally and internationally in the areas of communication pedagogy and mentoring, performance, social justice, and health communication.



Librarian’ing From Home

March 23, 2020

Today marks the first day of online instruction for my college. I had thought we would get hit with a high volume of chat reference questions today as students begin to get information from their faculty about what resources they will need moving forward. However, this rush on librarian assistance has not materialized. Perhaps it is too soon for the students to even think about accessing resources when they are still wrapping their heads around all the ways their courses are changing? Has anyone else noticed an increase or decrease in student or faculty questions? 

The students aren’t the only ones trying to wrap their minds around this new reality. I’m trying to figure out what is the best way to do my job from home. Video tutorials for our website and databases has always been one of those projects that we have never seemed to have time for and now they’ve really moved up the list of important tasks. I attempted to teach myself how to make a gif on Friday. My first attempt – showing students how to search for a specific publication – was not what I would call a success but not a total failure either. Anyone have good tips for creating these types of videos?  

The other thing I’m thinking about is how to offer library instruction remotely. My first experience is coming tomorrow afternoon. I created a LibGuide with resources that will be useful for their assignment which has been shared out to them via Sakia, our LMS. I’m scheduled to be available within their Sakai chat room tomorrow for the duration of their class period so that students can ask me questions. However, I know from my face to face instruction that students rarely ask questions so I’m trying to think of conversation starters I can use to get them to engage. My fingers are crossed that my sparkling personality can come through via a chat room! 😉  

I look forward to hearing from other libraries what you all are doing to cope with the COVID-19 situation.