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Research Writing at Wheaton

Library Research at Wheaton in the COVID-19 Era

Although the world is in the grip of a pandemic, college students are still writing research-intensive papers. For Wheaton College, this means altering library systems and practices to keep our neighbors and ourselves safe while we research.

I interviewed Associate Professor of Library Science, Gregory Morrison ‘87, who has been on the Wheaton College faculty since 1992. He pointed me to the Wheaton Buswell Library homepage where there is a bright orange tab labeled COVID-19 Fall 2020 Updates. This tab lists all of the steps they’ve taken to promote a safe research environment in the library. 

Headshot of Greg Morrison with abstract-patterned background
Photo courtesy of Greg Morrison

Professor Morrison walked me through several specific changes that he thought would be helpful for students to know about. Here is some updated information and advice for Wheaton students researching in a pandemic.

I-Share and ILLiad

Meredith Showler (MS): In past semesters, if a book was unavailable at Buswell, students could borrow it from I-Share or ILLiad. Are your interlibrary loan systems still functioning in the midst of COVID-19?

Gregory Morrison (GM): We still have I-Share and ILLiad working as the two systems that allow anybody to request materials from another library. I-Share is the combined catalog of the 90+ libraries in the Illinois library consortium. Historically, it’s been the quickest way to borrow a book from another library. However, due to COVID concerns, books traveling between I-Share libraries are quarantined for seven days. Expect about a 9-day turnaround on your I-Share request. 

Books requested through ILLiad, the worldwide borrowing system, are not subject to a quarantine, and usually take 7-10 days to arrive. ILLiad can accommodate requests for both articles and books, whereas I-Share is only for book borrowing.

Ebooks

MS: How can students access ebooks through Buswell Library?

GM: You can only access an ebook that Wheaton has actually purchased. While searching I-Share or ILLiad libraries, you may encounter ebooks owned by other schools, but you can’t borrow those ebooks. Thankfully, even before the onslaught of COVID, I had been more aggressively buying electronic resources, particularly to support biblical and theological studies. That’s really helped to better support our increasing number of remote students. 

Subject Librarians

MS: Do subject librarians still have in-person availability to meet with students?

GM: Yes, there is a button on the home page for finding your subject librarian. You can set up individual research consultations virtually. We are discouraged from meeting in person at this time. Email is also a good medium for getting research help from your subject librarian.

Research Tools

MS: What tools does the library offer to assist students in the research process?

GM: I would highlight the fact that you can go to the research guides. These are created by the subject librarians. So if you’re in biology, a librarian with expertise is showing you the recommended resources, like the Web of Science. The guides are very helpful because they are more directed, and you’re getting a curated gathering of sources that are judged to be important for your discipline.

Students can also explore our research databases by academic field. They can search for subject-specific databases to find academic journals and resources for a particular field, such as biology. 

Managing Sources

MS: What programs would you recommend for organizing research and citations?

GM: Just Zotero. The library prefers Zotero and has held workshops to support its use. There is already an extensive Zotero guide for interested students. I think Dr. Huttenlock is going to put out a tutorial (forthcoming in late September) since we can’t do the workshops in person. It depends on what kind of research you do, but for any sort of intensive research in a writing discipline, you should be using Zotero.

Research Help Desk

MS: What should students know about using the Research Help Desk?

GM: Our librarians have 1,300 to 1,400 interactions per year, and two-thirds of those interactions happen at the [physical] Research Help Desk. We have reduced hours for staffing the desk, but it is open. We have a COVID-safe setup so you can approach safely, and we’re happy to have people come. 

Meanwhile, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday, there will also be an online chat available. Sometimes that’s the same person who’s manning the Research Help Desk. We expect more chat interactions compared to last fall because the library hours have been reduced. It’s difficult to predict if we’ll see a reduction in foot traffic, but less foot traffic will likely translate into more chat and email interactions. We experienced a much higher number of chats in B quad last spring.

Social Distancing

MS: What other changes has the library implemented to follow COVID-Safe protocols? 

GM: We certainly have reduced the number of available spaces. There’s a 150-person capacity. That includes staff and doctoral students upstairs. There is space for about 100 students in the building at any given time. There still should be plenty of spaces to sit; you just can’t huddle together with your friends. However, there are tables where people can sit six feet apart at either end, so you can study with a friend at the same table. Signs clearly mark where one can sit, and furniture cannot be moved. Masks will be required. 

There’s a grab-and-go system now set up for interlibrary loan materials. As I mentioned earlier, all incoming I-Share books will be quarantined off-site for 7 days before the library receives them and makes them available for pick-up. These materials will be put on shelves in the Buswell library café where students and faculty can walk in, grab their books, and exit without visiting the circulation desk. 

I’m not sure how it’s going to work on campus quite yet, but there will be a system for delivering physical books to students in quarantine on campus.

Further Questions

MS: Thank you so much for talking with me today and offering your insight as a research librarian. If students have further questions about research and the library, whom should they contact?

GM: Students can contact research.help [at] wheaton.edu for research-related questions and circulation.desk [at] wheaton.edu for interlibrary loan or more general questions. 

Blessings on the beginning of this extraordinary semester! 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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