Connecting users electronically - efficiently and conveniently - at a distance

By Howard C. Marks, Director, Learning Resource Center, Midland College

Howard C. Marks, Director, Learning Resource Center, Midland College

In the middle of Texas, there’s out-of-the-box thinking occurring at the community college level. At Midland College, with a FTE of 3,500, 70% of the courses are online; 30% are f2f. This positions the campus library to have its resources in a similar ratio.

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has invariably necessitated the change of patron user habits in higher education, at least temporarily. In academic libraries, we have inevitably seen our building gate count numbers decrease down to zilch in many cases. Of course, this is all due to the national coronavirus lockdown in spring 2020 leading to shutting down our libraries and information centers to keep both employees and patrons safe and well.

When the college I work at in west Texas immediately ceased physical operations, except for a skeletal crew, those faculty who were not teaching online and did not already have their courses set up for the LMS were at a sharp disadvantage. (Texas governor Greg Abbott issued a public gatherings order for all Texans in March that has since been lifted. There was a lot of backend work they had to do to get their courses up and running, or at least be prepared to upload for this upcoming fall semester. The college website and all its sub-links then became the front focus of distance education, a source of reliable information at a crucial time.

My own library and learning resource center (LRC) did its best to answer the challenge and carry on operations online.

We released a webpage of Covid-19 guidelines and CDC resources.

We added a free 24/7 virtual reference chat service,, that automatically answers inquiries, or allows the staff librarian on duty to do so. From mid-March to late July, our ChapChat assistance answered a variety of questions for the campuswide college website portal. This was fittingly named after our beloved longtime college mascot, the chaparral. services-resources/library/

We loaded more electronic books and e-journals into the catalog and now feature a section of new titles for students, along with a database trial section.

We implemented a convenient doorside delivery service, a touchless system for our patrons to safely receive checkout items such as print books, dvds and audio cds.

We now feature our library/ learning resource center orientation online.

With library instruction going virtual, we now feature a section for asynchronous learning.

We added a new electronic resources librarian to our staff in March, who completed much of the work on our website.

I am in the process of updating our policies to reflect the ongoing changes put in place.

Previous to this, in 2019 the LRC implemented OpenAthens, the single-sign on authentication system. This, of course, eliminated the need for ezproxy and multiple usernames and passwords. The first year was spent training faculty and students how to sign in and authenticate into the system through Microsoft Office 365.

The next step is to team up with our information technology department and take OpenAthens through the Office 365 portal so students have single logon through the system. Right now, there are multiple access points. This is a valuable project for the future and one that was offered by OpenAthens (Ebsco, Inc. is the vendor) upon implementation.

As we prepare for the oncoming fall and spring 2020 semesters and quarters, many of us are re- opening physically, my library included. We are prepared with PPE, such as face coverings, shields, and gloves, plus protection guards, barriers and sanitizing stations. Everyone is required to wear face coverings in campus buildings and facilities, so we have policies and procedures in place so staff is ready for patron pushback. Whatever the second Covid-19 phase brings, we’ll all come out of this with more technical expertise than ever and with more skillsets and marketable skills, not to mention more knowledge of public health.

My dean just told me last week the learning resource center I run will be the center of campus for students to study, socialize and gather. I am honored this will be the case, but of course naturally a bit anxious about the unknowns. What if students refuse to wear face coverings? (We now have a script for this) What if there are Covid-19 outbreaks? (We have campus & CDC guidelines) What if our staff feel uncomfortable and compromised? (I stressed to my staff that they need to take care of themselves and their loved ones as we transition back from online to in-person.)

My hope is you and your staffs stay well and have a good academic year, despite our circumstances. Futurist Alvin Toffler predicted telecommuting 50 years ago. Looks like he was right.

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