InsightOut: Reopening (and reorienting) the Kelly Library

James Roussain is currently Interim Chief Librarian at the John M. Kelly Library. He joined the Library staff in 2017. Prior to that, James worked at Scotiabank, where he was involved in the maintenance and deployment of the corporate records management program. James is a past president of the Archives Association of Ontario (AAO) and the Toronto Area Archivists’ Group (TAAG). In his spare time, he is pursuing a Master of Education in Higher Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). He holds a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information.

Although we were able to keep our doors open for most of the last school year and come ready with years of experience, the Kelly Library is feeling some back-to-school jitters as we approach the new semester. A lot has changed. What is in store for us this coming year?

The biggest question being asked around the library right now is focused on our students: What will they need? Our role on campus has long been to help our students reach their academic potential. We are here to help by offering research consultations, lending books, media, and technology, and offering a quiet and comfortable place to gather and study. This is our wheelhouse–at least we think it is. After two-plus years of online learning, are we now out of our depth? How have the needs of our incoming students changed?

After more than two years of online learning there is little doubt that our users are now comfortable operating in a wholly new environment than where we left off in the “before times.” As everyone returns to campus this fall, we must be ready to adapt to new expectations of the campus library. For some students—say those who were in Grade 10 in March of 2020—two years of online learning has meant that, for many of them, this may be their first time approaching an academic library. Do they know what we can offer? How can we help them navigate this new and often intimidating world?

We can take comfort in two things. The first is that while we may be nervous about a return to in-person work and meeting the needs of a changed student body, so too are the students. Openly acknowledging the challenges of reacquainting with the university experience is a good icebreaker. Second, the Kelly Library can certainly rely on our slate of services, collections, and in-house expertise. While we look openly to understanding how we can engage students in the academic process, we remain ready to go. Here are a few highlights and updates on where we stand as of September 2022.

Looking to learn from our experience hosting online services, we are restructuring many of our core offerings with an eye to improving accessibility and to meet students where they are (both physically and in an academic sense). All our research and writing consultations will be offered in a hybrid model, where students will be able to choose whether they wish to meet online or in person in the library. Our academic librarians have met with more students over the last two years than since we began tracking these things. There was a clear need to improve accessibility and we hope that being able to meet online going forward will continue this trend. For those who seek a quiet refuge on campus, all our study spaces—including our group study rooms—will be fully open as of September and we welcome all members of our community to come visit and say hello.

We are also looking forward to further welcoming students enrolled within the Regis St. Michael’s federation. While students from all colleges have been welcome to avail themselves of our services and collections, the new federation and the corresponding excitement on campus have caused us to look for

new ways of engaging our community more broadly. For those of you who are new to the Kelly Library, welcome, and we look forward to seeing you around the stacks.

Ultimately, our role on campus—both within the library and more broadly among faculty and staff—is to stay abreast of trends within teaching and learning. The last few years have been a challenge for all of us, perhaps more so for our students, as we faced an accelerated period of change. If anything, this has taught me to stop and listen. Listen to what our students are saying, listen to their frustrations—cameras off is okay!—and seek to understand how we can help them succeed. If we all take a similar stance, I am confident we can smooth the transition to an in-person university experience for all of us. The librarians and staff at the Kelly Library are ready, and we look forward to seeing you all again soon.

Read other InsightOut posts.