Pandemic opens new chapter for Iwasaki Library

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Media: Alec Klusza

The Iwasaki Library.

By Gracie Warda and Ann E. Matica

In March, the Iwasaki Library operated as a place for students to mill around the stacks, congregate in groups to finish a project, and watch movies in one of the study carrels. 

Six months later, the space—once teeming with students—is desolate. Browsing books is prohibited, and the library’s capacity limit has been slashed, leaving library employees to wander the shelves alone. 

“It’s been a lot more quiet this semester, literally and figuratively,” Quinn Lattimore, a senior performing arts major and library employee, said.

The library’s capacity has now been reduced to 40 percent, dropping its maximum occupancy to 76 people from nearly 200 pre-pandemic. Most of the library’s essential services, like book rentals, have shifted almost entirely online.

On-campus library staff has also been reduced by 20 percent to allow more students to use the space. There are five spots for library staff and student workers, 39 spots for students to work and a half dozen spots for students to use the printer or pick up class materials. 26 spots have been set aside for classes that will take place in the President’s Room. The library’s hours remain the same. 

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To borrow a book, students now must reserve it in advance and pick it up at the front service desk within a two-day window. Plexiglass sheets separate the few student employees at the desk from those coming to retrieve rentals.

Before being checked out, all books are put on a 72-hour hold so they can be quarantined before another use. After this quarantine, students have a two-day window to retrieve rentals at the front desk, which has plexiglass sheets separating the employees from students. To use previously public library spaces, like tables and laptop stations, students must make an appointment online via Spacebook—the appointment system to book time in different areas on campus—which can be accessed through the library website.

“We wanted to be equitable,” Cheryl McGrath, executive director of library and learning, said. “We wanted to give everybody an equal chance to reserve a seat ahead of time to meet their needs. That was a big change in how we operate, but also really important to us, philosophically.” 

Some services, like research help, have been moved entirely to Zoom, whereas other resources, like scan requests, have been expanded since remote learning began. The Request a Scan service allows chapters of textbooks to be electronically scanned, making them accessible to students remotely. Use of that service has ticked up significantly this semester, McGrath said. 

“We’ve always had the service called ‘Request a Scan,’ and we emphasized it this year,” McGrath said. “If something was print-only, students could request one chapter per book per day. We have to follow copyright law, so we can’t just willy-nilly scan everything in the collection.” 

Library officials, in an attempt to adjust to pandemic-era regulations, also created a new website (guides.library.emerson.edu) to make utilizing their services easier for students. The site features easy access to booking services and more information about remote learning resources.

“This summer, we redid the entire website,” she said. “We basically built it for the pandemic. If there were any services that were in-person services, we just didn’t add them in, knowing that we could add them back in later. We really focused on remote learning as much as possible.”

McGrath said she believed the pandemic has affected how students utilize the library. Commuter students who might have used the library between classes are now staying in their bed between Zoom calls, and those who would normally head in for a late-night study session may stay in their dorm room desk out of convenience, she said. 

Lattimore echoed these beliefs. 

“As much as we can’t provide the same space as we used to, where people could come in and sit down and eat and take naps, we do still have a lot of resources available to help people with their studies,” Lattimore said. “We would love for people to come and sit at the desks and do their work.”