This week, SGA Rep Council heard a presentation from Barnard Library that focused on the recent work that the Library has done toward improving accessibility and community outreach.

Welcome back to another week of SGA coverage! As usual, the meeting started out with the members introducing themselves and sharing any announcements that they had.

Tirzah Anderson BC ‘21, SGA President, welcomed everyone and announced that SGA elections are currently happening. Students who missed this week’s information sessions but are interested in running are invited to email to schedule an information session. Students who wish to run for SGA positions are required to submit intent-to-run forms by March 19th at 6 PM. This announcement was seconded by Chelsea Sinclair BC ‘21, Senior Representative to the Board of Trustees.  

Danielle Hopkins BC ‘21, VP for Finance, announced that financial aid focus groups are happening this week and that those who had registered for those groups will soon receive emails asking them to RSVP to a particular session.

Myesha Chowdhury BC ‘23, Sophomore Class President, thanked people for attending this past week’s Majors Fair and invited everyone to fill out the Google form with any questions.

Norah Hassan BC ‘21, Senior Class President, reminded seniors to fill out the commencement survey that President Beilock and Dean Grinage sent out and to submit photos for the yearbook. She asked seniors to be on the lookout for upcoming emails with more information. 

Audrey Pettit BC ‘22, Junior Class President, invited students to sign up for an astrology reading, made possible through the junior class council. 

Parker Watts BC ‘22, Representative for Inclusive Initiatives, announced that she is standing in solidarity with graduate students who are striking this week. This sentiment was echoed by Solace Mensah-Narh BC ‘21, Vice President for Equity, who reminded students not to cross the graduate student workers’ picket line and to not report their striking TAs to the University.

Emily Ndiokho BC ‘22, VP for Policy, reminded everyone to stay alert for updates regarding housing registration and the housing lottery. 

After the Community Guidelines were read, the meeting then turned to a presentation from Barnard Library & Academic Information Services (BLAIS). The presenters were Miriam Neptune, the Interim Co-Dean and Director of Teaching, Learning, and Digital Scholarship; Quincy Williams, Student Engagement & Access Services Librarian; Christina Juste BC ‘22, Barnard FLI Partnership Student Associate; and Kristen Hogan, Interim Co-Dean and Director of Collections Strategy & Library Opportunities. 

The presentation focused on how BLAIS has been supporting students in access to course materials and other materials during the past year. The first part of the presentation narrowed in on Summer and Fall 2020, the time period during which BLAIS was forced to greatly adapt its operations because of the pandemic. 

One way in which BLAIS adjusted its operations was by making sure that librarians were consistently available as resources to students through Zoom and Google Meets. Miriam Neptune noted that the number of student conferences with librarians actually increased after the library’s operations became virtual. She theorized that this increase was due to the fact that librarians were now more accessible to students. Another change made was the hiring of a STEM librarian, Erin Anthony, who joined the BLAIS team in July.

Quincy Williams discussed BLAIS’s undertaking of the scanning of the majority of its printed material, making many more sources available digitally than there had been before. He noted that a lot of work went into fielding different sources for different books and different screening videos, but that BLAIS remained committed to ensuring that all students would have digital access to all their necessary course materials. 

Kristen Hogan described the addition of a mail service to Barnard’s FLI Partnership Library. With the resource of a form created by Christina Juste, students were able to request course materials that they needed and then have those materials mailed to them through the library. BLAIS also ran a number of virtual events in the fall semester, including Evenings With The Archives, the Shange Magic Project, Zine Library Workshops, and the Undesign Reading Group.

Next, the presenters discussed how they continued the process of building “affirming and accessible collections” during the pandemic. For the first time, the library has amassed an e-audiobook collection, with a focus on intersectional feminist audiobooks. They have also created the Barnard Intersectional Feminist eBook Reading List, which includes new collection items. In partnership with the Columbia Library, BLAIS has been able to purchase the Ebony Magazine Digital Archive. Additionally, the Barnard Zine Library has been building a collection of “quaranzines,” prioritizing the work of women of color and queer people of color. 

In partnership with Columbia University Library, BLAIS has acquired HathiTrust access, which has partially compensated for the loss of general access to the library stacks. HathiTrust is a service that scans materials and makes them available digitally to universities even if they’re under copyright. This service has been invaluable in expanding the digital accessibility of Barnard and Columbia library collections. 

The presenters also spoke about the current exhibit near the entrance of Barnard’s Milstein Library, an artwork by Dianne Smith that celebrates Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls. This piece was curated by Souleo. This exhibit, which will be on display through the beginning of fall 2021, touches on issues of domestic violence and identity. The presenters noted that, in the wake of the incident between Alexander McNab and Barnard Public Safety that sparked conversations about racism at Barnard, it has been on the forefront of their minds to create a space on the Barnard campus that is welcoming and inclusive and specifically addresses those issues.

Also over the fall semester, BLAIS began opening up the first floor of Milstein Library to students with reservations. The success of this system provided the blueprint for the current reservation-based access that Barnard students have to Milstein Library. 

The conversation moved to talk about BLAIS’s current activities and operations. Despite the fact that librarians and students are still not having any in-person interaction, there is now a system in place by which students who have reserved seats in Milstein can scan a QR code to access a “virtual help desk” for any troubleshooting that they may need. A new Course Reserves Specialist has just been hired. The presenters noted with particular pride that they were recently able to raise student staff wages.

On March 15th, the Summer 2021 Barnard FLI Partnership Library textbook request form went live. Students who need financial help accessing textbooks for classes they may be taking over the summer are invited to fill out the form and to email Christina Juste or the Barnard FLI Partnership with any questions.

Concluding the presentation, the SGA representatives were invited to ask the presenters questions. 

Parker Watts, Representative for Inclusive Initiatives, asked the BLAIS staff if they could share three or four initiatives that they hoped to continue in a post-pandemic world. Quincy Williams shared that he hoped the influx of digital course reserves would be a change that proved lasting, and posited that the combination of expanded digital archives and the return of print archives would be ideal for expanding accessibility. 

Miriam Neptune expressed her appreciation for the way in which, during conversations and workshops about improving pedagogy that took place over the past summer, librarians and library staff had been invited to share their pedagogical perspective. She also hoped that the recent expansion of digital accessibility of many required course materials would lead to a general increase in the affordability of classroom materials.

Kristen Hogan spoke about the benefits that the mailing program and the pick-up program have added to the Barnard FLI Partnership Library. Instead of having to anticipate what textbooks and course materials students will need, librarians are now able to directly purchase what students express a need for. 

Danielle Hopkins BC ‘21, VP for Finance, asked how BLAIS is working to ensure that classroom materials are available in multiple modalities. Neptune responded that BLAIS collaborates with CARDS to find or create accessible alternatives to inaccessible texts that students are assigned, and that they always search for texts that are available in different formats when they purchase new sources for their collections. 

Solace Mensah-Narh, Vice President for Equity, remarked that, due to the pandemic, Barnard has transitioned into being much more of a closed campus. She asked how BLAIS was committed to imagining Milstein as a space for the entire community, including Harlem, and if there was any way that SGA could support this initiative.

Hogan responded that BLAIS continues to advocate everywhere that they can for returning to an open campus, and returning to open access to library collections. Despite the fact that digital sources represent an improvement in accessibility for a large part of the population, the loss of access to print source is a major blow to accessibility to members outside the Columbia-Barnard community, who do not have access to a Columbia UNI to sign in to view the digital collections. She also noted that BLAIS has several partnerships with various institutions and organizations in the Harlem community, and that they endeavor to frequently host events celebrating those partnerships. BLAIS strives to amplify the creation in work that’s happening in Harlem as well as directly in the Columbia community.

Williams talked about the need to amplify and prioritize works by marginalized authors and community members. He discussed his desire for digital installations in the library that would display information about these books and therefore bring these works to the forefront. He noted that improving accessibility has to include using the proper technology to make these books known. 

Neptune noted that, despite the fact that Barnard used to be considered an open campus, there is a long history of people feeling excluded or unwelcome from the Barnard campus. She noted that “access has to be demonstrated” and that community members should feel that there is an “open invitation” to the library. She cited the art installations and exhibits as attempts to address the community and provide resources directly for them.

Krystal Zhou BC ‘22, Representative for Student Development, asked how BLAIS ensured that incoming students are introduced to the resources of the library during orientation. This question was largely answered by Christina Juste BC ‘22, who described her efforts to spread word of library resources through word-of-mouth. She noted that, because students are often so overwhelmed with information from social media and the Internet, it’s useful to try to break that chain by using more informal means of outreach. 

Flosha Liyana BC ‘21, VP for Campus Life, asked how BLAIS pictured the FLI partnership expanding in the years to come. Juste responded that ideally, the FLI partnership wouldn’t need to exist, because all books and course materials would be easily accessible and affordable. To that end, BLAIS is working to persuade professors to prioritize accessibility in their syllabi. Currently, the FLI Partnership Library aims to make all textbooks for required major classes available, so that no student will ever have to question whether they can pursue a certain course of study because of the accessibility of the materials. This means that, due to budgeting concerns, the FLI Partnership Library doesn’t have all textbooks available for electives that aren’t required for majors. 

Finally, Jasmin Torres Pinon BC ‘22,  VP for Communications, expressed that she has found the library to be the office that best takes and incorporates student feedback. She asked the staff of BLAIS why they thought that was, and how SGA could use that method in their interactions with other offices instead. 

Williams replied that BLAIS is seriously committed to social justice and that this commitment manifests in a prioritization of policy and practice over performativity. He noted that he doesn’t want BLAIS to be the only space on campus that takes social justice seriously, and that the whole Barnard community should strive to nurture an environment of anti-racism and inclusivity. 

Neptune noted that the more frequently that students approached the office with feedback, the more information the office received on how to do better at their work. BLAIS welcomes being in partnership with students, and offers itself as a resource to anyone who needs it.  

Milstein via Bwog Archives