As with many librarians in higher education, I never worked from home before March 2020. As an Instructional Services Librarian at a small university before Covid-19, I performed reference services, met for research consultations, and taught bibliographic & information literacy classes all in person. My daily routine included shifts at the circulation desk, spontaneously speaking with students about course assignments, and developing a variety of classroom experiences encouraging effective information seeking behaviors. I was that ever-available, face-to-face librarian jumping to assist students and faculty, often - as I now understand it - to the detriment of my other projects and professional passions.
And then the pandemic hit.
It's no secret - a lot of organizations and businesses struggled during Covid-19, academic libraries included. Many buildings physically closed to library users, forcing librarians to quickly pivot to virtually support campus communities through a series of remote services. For my library, this meant more heavily highlighting virtual services we already offered and converting in-person services to the online environment. They included:
an Ask a Librarian! reference form
virtual research appointments via Zoom or Teams
virtual programming via Zoom
virtual bibliographic & information literacy instruction
updated online resource guides
For me specifically this meant my daily routine shifted from all in-person activities to discovering for the first time how to make videos, how to use video conferencing software, and how to build instructional support materials to utilize in the digital classroom. I was amazed at how much I could accomplish without a commute, interruptions, and workplace small talk.
The pandemic forced me to swiftly reimagine instruction services and invent novel ways to reach faculty, students, and staff, each with - I'll admit - varying levels of success. It was challenging at first; there were new technologies and software to learn, and I had to teach myself how to do it all. Not so unexpectedly, there was a lot of trial and error, but I think it's ultimately paid off.
Working from home gave me the opportunity to finally focus. I had the time to build a collection of library teaching resources without the frequent interruption found in the physical library space.
I made video tutorials, hosted programs over Zoom, offered virtual research appointments, updated online resource guides, launched a monthly resource memo, created an online orientation, and taught library classes over Teams. After the initial shock of moving to remote slightly subsided, I virtually met with more students and received more inquiries than in the face-to-face years leading up to the pandemic. It was all challenging, yet rewarding.
I was required to return to the building five days a week starting July 2021 with the expectation that the library and librarians now need to offer all services in all learning environments - not just in-person, but also virtual, hybrid, and hyflex. I'm generally a highly motivated and well-organized person who loves a time-management tool, but there is just more to do than I can sometimes keep up with to support all these environments adequately. Without additional institutional resources, I'm completely overwhelmed and quickly losing mental bandwidth.
Being an instruction librarian requires me to talk to groups of people and individuals all day long. I'm good at outreach, am an engaging public speaker, and can plan inter-departmental collaborations in my sleep, so it's easy for my high-energy, high-results attitude to fool anyone into thinking I'm an outgoing and overtly expressive person. But I'm not really - I'm an introvert professionally disguising myself as an extrovert because I care about what I do and who I do it for. The truth is that I need an average of a thousand and one hours to myself for every hour of socializing. So I'll be candid: immediate re-assimilation has been horrible. And I can't be the only person feeling this whiplash.
While I would never want to return to the pain and uncertainty of March 2020, I'd be remiss not to acknowledge that (through a series of privileges) both my personal and professional creativity flourished in the depths of quarantine. Not only did it give me time to devote to long repressed projects, but it also willingly provided the permission that I so often seek from society to simply stay home (or away) without the worry of disappointing someone, without the guilt of letting anyone down.
However, as we pivot back and juggle the needs of both in-person and online spaces simultaneously, I'm uplifted by the belief that libraries - and by extension librarians - have and always will be equitable, flexible systems with the capability of continuously adapting to the needs of those they serve.
Through months of self-reflection, I am also now hyper aware of how working from home has changed me as an educator, a listener, a librarian, a person. I'm more in tune with my teaching self and have discovered coping mechanisms to continue to offer quality experiences for my students, even through traumatic times.
So as we move forward out and beyond the pandemic, I'm trying to pull some of what I've learned about myself to build a better, more positive home and work life that fits a post-covid model that I'm told we are finally living.
As I emerge from the depths of my quarantine mindset, I'd like to focus less on what has been taken from me and more on how the pandemic has positively modified and - in many cases - improved my personal day-to-day workflow and educational skillset as a teacher librarian. Although objectively horrible, I believe this unconventional and unprecedented time can help inform future changes to the library as an ever-evolving, multifaceted, and now hyflex entity.
The terms hybrid and hyflex are used to describe different course modalities. Hybrid learning usually involves both synchronous in-class sessions with the rest of the coursework taking place asynchronously online. In contrast, hybrid-flexible or hyflex learning offers in-class instruction, synchronous online sessions, or asynchronous content delivery to provide a similar learning experience for everyone.
"Although hyflex learning has significant benefits in terms of allowing education to continue when catastrophes like the Covid-19 crisis occur, this approach requires a substantial and sustained investment of resources from higher education institutions for success in order to make online learning equivalent to in-person learning" ( Rutledge, Casucci, Mowdood, & Ziegenfuss, 2021; EDUCAUSE, 2020). It is worth supporting because hyflex learning is the most flexible for learners, giving the opportunity to choose which delivery format works best for individual learning styles.
So how can libraries help?
Libraries need to support hybrid & hyflex teaching & learning by themselves adopting hyflex librarianship practices.
I'll define hyflex librarianship here as an innovative staffing and distributive service model that actively assimilates service-changes born directly from the Covid response to the core mission of library work where libraries must at once be a destination, a virtual experience, and an instructional system.
The destination library is the traditional library, housing physical material and providing learning environments conducive to both solo discoveries and ideation that lead to effective collaboration.
The virtual library provides diverse sources of information in various formats available and accessible electronically at both the destination library and at remote locations. It is the goal that library users find the online materials and resources convenient and easy to access and utilize to inform learning experiences and conduct research for course assignments.
The instructional library supports library users in building information literacy skills by instructing how to locate, evaluate, select, and utilize the full range of information materials available, both print and electronic as the world of information continues to expand and become increasingly complex.
While the physical, destination library will always remain a valuable experience to users, hyflex librarianship practices can help transform the virtual library experience and aid in effective instructional strategies both in and outside the classroom.
Moving forward, libraries should consider opportunities for new or continued hyflexing of:
programs & events
staffing & schedules
remote study spaces & collaborative zones
hold delivery options
reference & research help
course texts & reserves
Covid-19 has directly impacted how I approach community outreach. Before the pandemic, I relied heavily on word of mouth, print materials and ineffective mass emails to share library news, new services/resources, and upcoming events. The shift to online learning and remote work quickly became the catalyst to rethinking how best to reach students, faculty, and staff in the new virtual-first space we all inhabited, hung out in, and used to connect with one another.
As I began to understand what our ‘new normal’ would look like, I identified a massive gap in our promotional efforts that a new initiative could hopefully fill, especially in light of the concerns surrounding how quickly users might - or might not - return to the physical space. I launched the Library Resource Memo in early 2021 during my institution's recovery period to fill this gap.
This Memo is a monthly subscription-based, email publication easily adaptable to the ever-changing, unpredictable hyflex nature of our present and future. It supports the learning and information literacy initiatives of both the library and larger institution by offering multiple ways to engage with the same library services or materials across environments.
a physical library display is curated in the building
a publicly accessible resource list is created in the catalog
portions of the display are virtually recreated in the Memo with linked content
Users can explore the linked material online, can visit the library to view the display, or do both! Two most recent examples of this include our 9.11 Remembrance and Banned Books displays. I'm excited to see how this process transforms as I observe users and modify the technique.
My hope in the coming months is to resist reverting to pre-pandemic models simply because they are easy and familiar. We - all of us, not just librarians - should continue to reflect on how Covid has (and continues to) change us. Academic librarians specifically should continue to reflect on how to adapt services for a digital-first world through hyflexing for stronger customer service, engaging programming, and up-to-date academic support.
Wecome to the hyflex library, welcome to your hyflex life.
Rutledge, L., Casucci, T., Mowdood, A., & Ziegenfuss, D. (2021). Hyflexing library instructional materials: Getting at the heart of designing flexible instruction. ACRL 2021 Virtual Conference.
Benedetti, A., Boehme, G., Caswell, T.R., Denlinger, K., & Li. Y. (2020). 2020 top trends in academic libraries. College & Research Libraries News, 81(6).
EDUCAUSE. (2020). 7 things you should know about the hyflex course model.
Amoruso, S. & Elliot, B. (2021). Reimagining higher education for the age of flexible work. Inside Higher Ed.
Furman, M. (2021). Virtual office hours should be here to stay. Inside Higher Ed.