by Tara Madhav ’21
During a particularly difficult year, the Undergraduate Library Fellows and Library Mentors had to think together about how to expand library services in a time when physical access to library services was greatly limited for Berkeley students. As we prioritized accessibility in our meetings, we had to take into account the fact that most students would not be on campus, let alone enter the library, for the duration of the academic year. The pandemic brought particularly important meaning to the idea of “design thinking.” Our mentors prioritized process over product, guiding us through a non-linear process to understand how we can understand and assist with people’s library needs.
I was part of the Making Research Accessible Team with Katherine Chen, Joseph Rodriguez, and Zhane Garlington. We received guidance and support from Nicole Brown, Kiyoko Shiosaki, Gisele Tanasse, and Kristina Bush as we navigated the process of creating a survey that would accurately assess the student community’s library needs. Perhaps because we could not consult our peers easily in a virtual environment, the survey design process required us to ask deep questions about who our audience was. Moreover, we had to study our own understanding of what library services were. If we were the intended audience for a survey like the one we sent out, how would we understand the question we were being asked? Not only did we need to thoroughly examine how effective these questions were, we had to draft questions that were conscious of the environment we were living through. We added two questions that asked students about the impact of the pandemic on their ability to impact library services, asking what strengths students could identify with library services during the pandemic and what they found lacking.
Through the design process, I learned about the particular importance of collaboration. As our team worked to identify appropriate questions, I found it valuable to draw on my peers’ and mentors’ experiences to create an accessible survey. Our survey provides insight into a unique and transitional year for the Berkeley libraries — next year, the libraries will re-open fully and the Oskicat search database will be replaced with the UC Library Search, which will unite all UC library holdings into a single discovery tool. I look forward to the innovative projects that the 2021-2022 library fellows develop as they help students navigate these exciting changes.
Before my graduation this May, I benefited from Berkeley library services before and during these turbulent times. I met incredible peers and mentors through the Library Fellows program, I used extensive physical and digital resources to write my research papers and senior thesis, and I spent hours studying at beautiful libraries like Doe. I would encourage Berkeley students to take full advantage of the university’s opportunities, facilities, and collections — it will enrich your college experience in many ways.