During the pandemic, students used the internet to its fullest extent, aimlessly scrolling on Google Scholar, Moodle, and other online communication tools, to try and fulfill a space that simply was not there anymore. Academic spaces, like libraries, were shut down for students. Across the world, people tried to assimilate into a new normal, but how do learners rebuild a lost sense of in-person academic community? I spoke to Elizabeth Millar, the Rare Books and Special Collections librarian at Mt. A, about the resources at the campus library, the importance of a scholarly environment, and the future of academic communities.
I first met Millar while I was wandering around the main floor of the R.P Bell Library, pretending I knew what I was looking for. However, Millar caught my eye and after introductions, we began browsing the extensive collection of library resources at the Research Help Desk. After Millar saved me hours of aimless Google-searching, I was shocked that this resource was unknown to me and my peers within the underclassmen at Mt. A.
Hence, I was curious about the extent the library is being used by students. Are these resources underused? To my question Millar responded: “I think it is being well used. I think — in my opinion, the pandemic chased everybody away. We are still getting people coming back and being in the library in-person and getting used to being in the space together and learning together. I consider the library an important part of our community of learners and we need to be together for that.” Although events, such as those held during Orientation Week, and some first-year classes attempt to draw students to the library, the reliance on laptops and independence of students is a barrier. However, Miller notes that these factors do not negate the need for in-person space or collaboration. “I think there will always be a role for an in-person library,” said Millar. She believes “we lose something when everybody’s on their laptops and removed from everybody else — the community of scholarship.”
The sense of community relies on collaboration and feedback. Millar reflected on a past student who had posted thoughts about the Mt. A community, faculty, and librarians on her twitter feed. The student expressed gratitude to the library for providing a safe and welcoming space, detailing that this culture made a difference for her. “She was saying that the culture of safe, welcoming, good, space that the library is — the culture we’ve created here […] made a difference to her.” “That is so important to us,” says Millar about the library staff, “we want every person who comes into that [library] building, regardless of background, or where they are on that particular day; we want them to feel like they’re welcomed here, [and like] they’re supported here.” This support is shown by the importance of accessibility within the library. Resources, such as The Research Help Desk, the Writing Resource Centre, and academic study centres are available for the scholarly community to use. Millar noted that she would enjoy seeing more students use the help desk, in addition to interacting and using the knowledge of the library staff, Millar says that she “can help [students] save time and stress.” Students “never have enough time and they always have too much stress, and I can help with both of those,” she concluded.
In addition, Millar will be hosting an academic integrity workshop at the end of October. Although, it is not just Millar offering help to the scholarly community. Other librarians, such as Kevin Burke are currently offering additional services. Burke, the Creative Arts Librarian, is usually in the Alfred Whitehead Music Library, but can also be found in The Purdy Crawford Centre for the Arts on Tuesdays from 11:30 to 1 p.m. and Hart Hall 403 on Wednesdays from 12 to 3 p.m. Further, Burke is hosting a series of workshops on how to perform library research. For additional information on these events, Burke can be found at [email protected] and Millar at [email protected]. Moreover, any other library events, such as the peer-led tech help centre can be found on the library Instagram, @mta_libraries. The library Instagram also offers updates on the infamous summer-run plant camp, with new merchandise available in the Mt. A bookstore for purchase.