Coronavirus and the Libraries: Student Support During a Pandemic

illustration of and owl carrying books in flight


By Laura Studley

After the decision was made to transition to online learning, many students were left wondering what to do next. During a time of confusion and uncertainty, CSU Libraries rose to the challenge to provide student support.

Access to materials and resources is imperative for student success, and with the Libraries’ help, a learning environment was made possible from home.

CSU Libraries has been purchasing books, journals, databases, streaming media, and more materials in electronic forms for more than 20 years, according to coordinator for Collections, Allison Level. These resources are accessible 24/7 from anywhere in the world.

“CSU students and researchers travel the world and take online classes from lots of places that all existed before COVID-19,” Level said. “So, the Libraries and the University have been attentive to the needs of higher education in a ‘virtual’ world for a long time.”

Given the quick turnaround the library experienced with the pandemic, resources had to be organized to match the pace.

“We had a lot of basic building blocks needed to make that quick transition,” said Amy Hoseth, assistant dean of User Services, “but we had to figure out how to put them together in a very short time frame, so that we could provide the same type of support we would in person, just online.”

In the Morgan Library, 10 staff were identified as “essential workers,” according to Hoseth. These employees, including student workers, helped with laptop and book shipments, scanned books, and provided technical support.

“They did awesome work. It’s a big lift when you don’t have a full team here,” Hoseth said. “Our on-site team has really gone above and beyond.”


Throughout the spring, Morgan Library checked out and shipped laptops to students so that they could complete their semester in an online environment. There were more than 200 laptops available for student use. In the early days of the pandemic, the Libraries extended laptop checkouts through the end of the semester, despite the typical six-hour circulation or seven-day checkout. But, with more precautions taken surrounding the outbreak, the library decided to extend checkouts for all library materials until the fall, alleviating stress if students chose to take summer courses.

“We realized that a lot of students probably cleared out dorms and apartments and headed home,” Hoseth said. “So, for students who had checked out library materials, they didn’t have to return those to us until Sept. 1.”

Laptops checked out for the remainder of the semester or until the fall needed to be equipped with the necessary tools that allowed for long-term use. Suzi White, manager of Library Technology Services, and her team assisted with the demand for laptop checkouts by preloading essential software that allowed students to do schoolwork off campus.

“We had to think about how we could provide students with more streamlined access for the things they would need when they were offsite,” White said.

AskUs chat service

In the weeks following the transition online, questions asked through the Libraries’ chat service increased 400%.

“We had a lot of questions in those early days, like ‘how can I get a laptop?’ or ‘I have stuff I need to return, how can I do that?’” Hoseth said. “It was all hands on deck, and we were glad to have the help of our employees, both students and full-time staff, there to make sure that we could answer those questions as quickly as possible.”

Additionally, with the increase of patron questions, the chat service provided remote work for student employees dedicated to helping support the campus community and students in particular.

Liaison Support

Research and instructional librarians in the Liaisons Unit provided instructional support for students to help research and learning continue.
Utilizing instruction from the unit, faculty and staff were given resources to assist with teaching various classes, including Composition 150.

Typically, in a semester, the librarians teach more than 100 CO 150 courses. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, 32 composition class sessions shut down.

Videos were made for both undergraduate and graduate students, including videos that discussed an overview of library services, databases, and composition help.

“A lot of the liaison librarians held virtual reference consultations,” said Meggan Houlihan, coordinator of the College Liaisons Unit. “So, they met with students either in Microsoft Teams or via Zoom to answer specialized research questions.”

Other Resources

Books placed on shelf reserve by professors were scanned for student use during the spring semester. Shelf reserve allows books or other large-format items to be available for checkout to students in a specific course.

“We were pulling books off shelf reserve and scanning chapters or pages, or in some cases full text, and then making those available to students through our e-reserve system,” Hoseth said.

Scanning physical course materials ensured that students had digital access to materials they needed to keep learning online. Additionally, Collections tried to ease the pressure of the high request volume through buying copies of e-books for students to access quickly.

“For 20 years now, we’ve been building an online collection, so we have licenses and contracts in place with big publishers,” Level said. “That kind of work by Acquisitions and Metadata Services takes weeks and months to do. So all of the back-end logistics were in place, which was great; so, when it comes down to ordering an e-book, that becomes a one-day or two-day process.”

In an era where many resources are available electronically, CSU Libraries was able to accommodate our patrons. Because of the depth of resources available online, individuals do not need to be in the physical building to conduct research and schoolwork.

And even with the uncertainty that comes with the fall semester, the Libraries will continue to adapt services and resources to meet student, staff, and faculty needs.

Donors Step Up for Ram Aid

As of June 29, 2020, Ram Aid had awarded $197,545 to students in need of assistance during the COVID-19 crisis. Since 1991, Ram Aid has supported students at risk of dropping out of CSU due to unforeseen expenses. Since the COVID-19 crisis, 147 students have received financial assistance that ranged from $500 to $2,750 to cover necessities such as rent, utilities, medical bills, and groceries. Students can reach out to the Office of Financial Aid to request more information. During this time, Rams take care of Rams; consider a gift to the Ram Aid fund today.



Ensuring Students Have the Resources They Need

As remote learning becomes increasingly important at CSU, the Electronic Resource and Service fund will continue to ensure students have the tools and resources to engage in flexible and meaningful learning. Learn more about the fund and donate.