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Virtual Open Houses Introduced Viewers to the Delights of Yeshiva University’s Libraries

Open Hand, Open Heart @ Library Open House

By Hallie (Chaya Sarah) Cantor
Acquisitions Associate
Hedi Steinberg Library

Maker space. Community center. No wonder so many libraries are getting face lifts. But underneath all the ever-changing trends and technologies, the human heart beats on.

“Virtual Library Open House”—held via Zoom on Friday, March 5, for faculty, and Tuesday, March 9, for staff—introduced viewers to the delights, both present and future, of Yeshiva University’s libraries: Pollack, Mendel Gottesman (MGL), and Hedi Steinberg (HSL).

Hosted by Moshe Schapiro, MGL Reference Librarian, tech-controlled by Library Systems Administrator J.B. Holderness, and timed by Chriss Dalen, the Library Administrative Coordinator, the Virtual Library Open House made the “virtual” a deeply personal experience, highlighting recent and tentative developments as well as the abundant resources publicly available.

Human Interactions

First stop, Hedi Steinberg Library (on the Beren campus). Elinor Grumet, in her role as Reference and Instruction Librarian, described the most satisfying part of her job: teaching library classes, which are based on consultation with the instructor and tailored to address the particular research paper or class assignment.

This past year, instead of being invited into the classroom to give bibliographic instruction, librarians have, of course, been conducting this virtually, along with one-on-one chats and Zoom interviews with patrons. Nevertheless, none of this sudden change has deterred any interactions. Since the pandemic began, in fact, over 862 questions have been fielded via Chat.

Elinor described the “personal librarian program” whereby a student gets matched with a librarian who shares a similar interest. Follow-up is conducted over the academic year. It’s a way, Elinor said, of saying, “Hi, I’m your personal librarian. Contact me.” Initially geared toward Honors students, the program now reaches out to first-year students.

For the past three years, the YU Libraries have sponsored a library research award. Every undergraduate is eligible to submit a research paper written for a course in the past year. The prize—judged by a panel of seven librarians—is $250 and a framed certificate. So far, the winning essays have been in political science, public health and psychology.

Referring to the library home page, Elinor introduced viewers to some essential library services. While Hedi Steinberg shares with other YU libraries access to over 1 million print volumes as well as DVDs, e-books, journals, and e-journals, Elinor pointed out HSL’s superb collection of children’s fiction, both Judaica and general, which serves the education department (and a lot of parents!).

Whatever item YU does not own can be obtained via Interlibrary Loan, from almost any library in the country, even some abroad. Under the current pandemic, many students have taken advantage of the Grab & Go service, where materials are checked out to the patron and left in the lobby for pick-up.

The next speaker, Shulamis Hes, Pollack Electronic Resources and Reference Librarian, discussed another public service, the Library Book Talks. Originally launched at the Seforim Sale with first-guest Dr. Jeffrey Gurock, the Book Talks have grown to at least three per semester and have hosted speakers on a variety of topics—this past year alone, children’s literature, philosophy, and a personal memoir—and have reached people in living rooms across the United States and Israel.

In addition, Shulamis pointed out the variety of databases now available on the library website—over 300—giving access to information on all subjects with the click of a mouse. One example was AncestryLibrary, which can bring up census data from 1790, oral histories and photos. As a demo, Shulamis searched for the boat passage to the United States of her husband’s parents. Other databases like The Foundation Directory are useful for those seeking grants.

How to keep all your research in one place? Enter RefWorks, a bibliographic management tool that can store sources discovered in the cloud without clogging up laptop memory. Shulamis showed how to filter (and simplify) a search through YUFind, which locates articles, books, encyclopedia entries and e-books available in YU.

The merely bored or homebound can find plenty to do in YU’s COVID-19 Resource Guide, which offers everything from the latest health bulletins to concerts, online courses, and old movies. The COVID-19 page—researched and posted by Wendy Kosakoff, Public Services and Outreach Librarian—proved to be virtual chicken soup, providing education and entertainment during the dreary days of the lockdown.


Treasure Trove

Want a podcast of your Navi teacher? Go to the Yeshiva Academic Institutional Repository (YAIR). YAIR was described by Stephanie Gross, Electronic Reserves and Scholarly Communication Librarian, as “an online collection—a treasure-trove—of academic works created by faculty and staff with the goal of elevating the status of YU in the academic world.”

Stephanie has devoted countless hours expanding YAIR. Asking “What can YAIR do for me and YU?”, she displayed the listings of journal articles, recordings, chapters, all intended “to showcase intellectual output” and provide a permanent URL where YU work can be shared freely and globally. Users from abroad have requested that YU theses and dissertations be made public. They can be found in YAIR.

Examples of YAIR content include Commentator back issues, YU Voices (interfaith dialog) and YU student publications. There is also the purely creative as well as scholarly work, both art and fiction. Collaborative efforts list all contributors, each with his or her own link. An example of YAIR’s scope is an archived interview with Dr. Jill Katz supervising YU students at an archaeological dig. Stephanie showed samples of two student publications born digitally during the pandemic. The Office of Admissions has chosen YU’s women’s science journal to market science programs to potential students. All these are found on YAIR.

In addition to YAIR, Stephanie has had her hand in library subject guides (LibGuides), and the Catalog of Yeshiva University Authors, which annually lists all the recent publications and contributions of YU faculty, staff and alumni/alumnae. As keeper of the cyber-keys in Electronic Reserves, Stephanie posts readings for courses. Faculty can fill out a form to have their materials uploaded to an eReserves page.

How to make “cents” of all these shared materials? Sandy Moore, Pollack Head Librarian, discussed the emergence of open educational resources (OER) initiatives, where e-textbooks and other materials in the public domain take the place of expensive print textbooks. Through OER, faculty can freely “retain, revise, remix, reuse, and redistribute content” without strain on the students’ wallets or the library budget.

In addition, OER enables faculty to curate resources in different ways. Under the YU Alternatives Project now getting underway, faculty will work with our librarians to design courses with low or no cost for texts. Students will obtain podcasts, articles–anything, without having to pay upfront. “This places power in faculty hands,” Sandy said.

OER are not always free. However, they have made textbooks far more affordable. This past year has been a bonus for e-books, and during COVID, requests for e-textbooks grew. Because many publishers continue to refuse sale to libraries, OER provide an outlet for instructors and students in need of a cost-effective way to obtain learning materials.

The library, then, is greatly helping faculty meet their teaching objectives.


Open End

While institutions everywhere have already undergone massive changes, the pandemic has clearly accelerated the need for remote and high-tech resources. Nevertheless, the physical library remains crucial for an academic community. What is being done to accommodate human bodies?

Back to Hedi Steinberg.

Rina Krautwirth, Reference and Instruction Librarian, discussed plans for HSL renovations. They include:

  • Dedicated classroom (for library instruction).
  • Increased study space.
  • Added seating area.
  • Computer flat screens (for collaborative work).
  • Aesthetic re-designs.

Regardless of delays caused by COVID-19, preparations are under way. The initial weeding project, now going on, is updating the collections and creating more study and collaborative space. Faculty is being kept in the loop through consultations on what materials to discard.

Rina displayed the architect’s rendering of “HSL of the Future”: ultramodern chairs and desks, prominent reference desk, and shelves spaciously arranged, with well-lighted desks ranged against large windows. The goal, she explained, is “to enhance the library functionally, as well as aesthetically.” Briefly mentioned were possible additions to Pollack/Gottesman: 3D-printing, digital media labs and video conference rooms.


Rendering of the uupgrade to Hedi Steinberg Library HSL of the Future


Whatever the changes, physical and virtual, nothing can ever replace the library’s “helping hand” to faculty, students and anyone else in need of human support.

A recording of the Library Virtual Open House for staff, as well as recordings of past Library Book Talks, can be found on YouTube’s Yeshiva University Libraries page.