OhioLINK community strengthens amid COVID-19

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Nov 16, 2020) — 

As the coronavirus pandemic began to impact the United States in March 2020, academic libraries faced the challenge of how to quickly and effectively support rapid transitions to solely online instruction. Many students and faculty worried about how (and whether) they would finish the semester. OhioLINK seamlessly moved to remote operations and focused on highlighting services that members found indispensable amid the new academic environment.

Members felt assurance in having access to OhioLINK’s digital collection of 100+ research databases, 200,000 e-books, 12,000 journal titles, 33,000,000+ journal articles, and 100,000+ electronic theses and dissertations that were immediately available for use. Jeff Grossman, Head of Collection Services at Xavier University’s library, shared that he felt OhioLINK was vitally important to his institution. He said that having an “incredible amount of resources available right from the start meant we didn’t have to scramble or rely on the largess of vendors.”

“We didn’t miss a beat going online,” said Suzanne Johnson-Varney, Technical Services & Collection Management Librarian at Shawnee State University. In a university-wide meeting with their Provost, Shawnee’s Dean of Library Services reported that Clark Memorial Library was up and running smoothly on the second day after closure of the campus.

Uninterrupted access to resources applied to students, too. “Within only a few days, students previously residing on our campus were spread across Ohio and the country, but with an internet connection they were able to seamlessly access OhioLINK databases and online journals, providing educational continuity and keeping them on the path to graduation,” said Melody Tankersley, senior vice president and provost at Kent State University.

OhioLINK’s resources not only aided academic libraries, but also helped its 18 medical center and medical library members by providing access to crucial research during this time of need. “Our OhioLINK resources are saving lives right now,” said Michelle Kraft, director of the Cleveland Clinic library.

In a bit of fortunate timing, an agreement with Cambridge University Press approved by deans and directors in December 2019 allowed OhioLINK to add 8,500 unlimited use e-books and reference works to its collection on June 1. Originally, this agreement was slated for access on July 1, but understanding how crucial e-resources would be to online instruction during campus closures, Cambridge Press was willing to move up the access date and even arranged by-request access in May so that the collection could be used as no-cost course material for summer semester classes.

“Within only a few days, students were able to seamlessly access OhioLINK databases and online journals, providing educational continuity and keeping them on the path to graduation.”

— Melody Tankersley, Senior Vice President & Provost, Kent State University

OhioLINK met member needs in other ways beyond providing access to e-resources. Hearing a great deal of uncertainty from members about how to move forward, OhioLINK quickly tapped into its strong community to pull together a series of online forums to share best practices and discuss common challenges. University of Toledo Electronic Resources Librarian Clare Keating found that the webinars “allowed us to crowdsource ideas for local implementation.” Sean Kennedy, Assistant Professor of Practice, Bibliography, and Collections, and Content Strategies Librarian at the University of Akron, said that he was not surprised to see OhioLINK “lead the way by bringing people together from all corners of the state to handle the crisis.” Panelists from 18 institutions and 450 members participated in the discussions.

After the COVID-19 webinar series wrapped up, OhioLINK pivoted to its member Summit. The Summit, in its third year, is an event open to all member institutions that informs members of OhioLINK initiatives and services. Adapting to this year’s circumstances, the Summit was transformed into nine webinars spanning spring and summer. While OhioLINK missed seeing members in person, the online format allowed many more people to participate and was very well received. Eighty-two percent of Summit attendees responded positively to the idea of future online Summits.

As students resumed their semester from home, in-person tutoring was no longer an option for those needing additional assistance with courses. Since 2010, the e-Tutoring Collaborative program has been available to all non-profit Ohio higher education institutions. The program allows students from participating institutions to receive online academic support in the form of live tutoring and asynchronous paper reviews, at no cost to the students.

Andrew Richardson, Assistant Director of the University of Akron’s Office of Student Academic Success, called OhioLINK’s eTutoring Collaborative “a saving grace” during this extraordinary period. The University of Toledo worked to get its 120 in-person tutors into the eTutoring platform as fast as possible so students had access to assistance despite the disruption in their semester. Others also made use of e-tutoring. Leah Baumhauer, Coordinator of the Tutoring Center at Edison State, credits OhioLINK’s eTutoring professionals with “an amazing job of adding tutors and subject areas to the tutoring schedule within a very short timeframe.” Excluding the University of Toledo’s additional hours, the eTutoring Collaborative saw a 118% increase in tutoring sessions after the move to online-only instruction. The program receives a 94% satisfaction rating from students.

Amy Pawlowski, Executive Director of OhioLINK, and other OH-TECH leaders monitored the COVID-19 situation and official communications from the state as well as The Ohio State University (OhioLINK’s fiscal agent). OhioLINK staff anticipated a work-from-home directive and were prepared to move quickly. All of the technical infrastructure was in place (thank you, OH-TECH!), and staff were able to continue their work remotely. Members seamlessly received the same high level of support, however, because they were no longer using their campus IP addresses, some students and faculty needed extra assistance accessing their resources. OhioLINK saw an immediate uptick in contacts—a 53 percent increase in support requests over the last two weeks of March. Tasha Bryant-Willis, OhioLINK’s Member Support Coordinator, provides frontline technical guidance for member institution students and faculty, and even provides support to public librarians and library users. “It’s imperative that our OhioLINK librarians get timely answers to their access questions,” said Bryant-Willis. “OhioLINK needs to understand what’s available for members through their institution and to make their jobs easier, because good support for member librarians trickles down good support for those librarians’ faculty and students.”

Selina Wang, Head of Acquisitions, E-resources & Serials at Oberlin College and Conservatory Libraries, said, “OhioLINK staff have been an effective and efficient team that has been giving us quick and clear responses, forwarding questions to the right person and always managing to resolve our issues quickly and effectively.”

As Governor DeWine started to discuss reopening the state in May, people were anxious to think about restarting OhioLINK user-initiated print lending. Lending among member institutions and public libraries ceased in March, necessitated by closures. While many library resources are easily accessible electronically, many materials are still available only in print, and OhioLINK delivered more than 300,000 items in 2019. In anticipation of the gradual reopening of campus libraries for fall classes, a team of OhioLINK librarians started meeting in April to plan for the resumption of OhioLINK’s print lending services. The networked nature of lending required a certain percentage of libraries to be able to participate in processing loans and receiving deliveries. Print borrowing among member institutions resumed on August 10, thanks to the efforts of OhioLINK’s Resumption of Print Lending Team.

COVID-19 will affect higher education and library services for some time to come, however, OhioLINK is considering how the pandemic response might help the consortium provide even better services—to members, students, and faculty—long after the return of in-person operations.

2020 OhioLINK Summit Magazine

Read this story and more in the 2020 edition of OhioLINK's Summit Magazine.

About OhioLINK: Connecting libraries, learning and discovery. Established in 1992, the Ohio Library and Information Network (OhioLINK) is Ohio’s statewide academic library consortium serving 117 libraries, 88 institutions of higher education plus the State Library of Ohio and more than 800,000 students. Delivering both IT infrastructure and content negotiation, OhioLINK provides students, researchers, faculty and staff with access to digital research collections rivaling top university libraries in the United States and internationally—at a fraction of the cost. OhioLINK also connects library services, print and digital collections among its member institutions and manages collaborative services, including eTutoring, statewide Affordable Learning textbook initiatives and open educational resources. A member of the Ohio Technology Consortium of the Ohio Department of Higher Education, OhioLINK creates a competitive advantage for its members and supports student and researcher success in the state of Ohio. Learn more at ohiolink.edu.