COVID-19 catalyzes digital shifts, students adjust to changes at Munday Library
December 2020. This story was written for a Journalism final project.
An almost empty study space, taken a week before finals.
The St. Edward’s University Munday Library converted to an all-digital library, removing its print collection during the summer. The abrupt change was due in part to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in part to the way reading resources are being accessed.
Since it’s conception in 2012, the Munday Library has stood as a symbolic space for that which is beyond the traditions of academia.
Downstairs study space, fall 2019 (top) compared to fall 2020 (bottom).
Like the rest of the world’s adjustments in 2020, the library has found itself looking much different than ever before. “The library used to see about 100 students come and go from the building each hour of the day,” said Travis Williams, archivist and special collections librarian. “Now we see a total of 100 students a day on average.”
In the last 10 years, libraries have become increasingly digital. The shift of libraries focusing on accessing information, rather than books, has completely changed the way in which we approach utilizing a library. Increasingly, young people are adapting to this digital world and agree that libraries should shift into accommodating the public areas for study spaces and tech centers, rather than book stacks.
“I think some of the shifts to digital we’ve seen thanks to the pandemic will have long-lasting effects on our culture,” Williams said.
Once the campus reopened in August, computers were spaced apart, rooms made unavailable, and chairs distanced to maintain the health and safety of visitors. The displacement of the student body across the state and country led to the sharp decrease of visiting numbers in a day.
Sitting near the edge of campus, the library has always been a space to work, socialize, and host classes. These changes have not gone without student adaptations and learning changes. Most of the campus population is working entirely online, and those who do join Munday’s walls have plenty of space to remain socially distanced while studying.
This is very much a space that belongs to the campus community, not any one group,” Williams said. “We are able to work with students and faculty a lot more closely than other libraries. Also, we are able to capitalize on the talents of our staff beyond their library skills. Not every library is able to do that. This has led to some exciting events and collaborations in the library that others can not match.”
Most students are not aware of the significance of the library’s archive system. From donated pieces of art, old Topper suits, and even a Texas Craft Brewing Collection, which Williams presented in January. Williams refers to himself as a kind of “keeper of stories” for the library.
“It’s my job to collect, organize, preserve, and make available unique collections of historical importance,” Williams said. “There are many stories in our archive – about the University, its alumni, the Brothers of the Holy Cross, and Texas Beer. What I try to do is capture as many of them as I can–through documents, photographs, videos, oral histories, and memorabilia–so that people will be able to come in and find them as far into the future as possible.”
Williams is excited about the possibilities for the Library’s future.
“I see the library returning to its role as a prominent place on campus for research and leisure,” Williams said. “Some of the brightest minds from across the university are also working to develop a Learning Commons to pool even more resources for students into the building.”
“I think we will see more student art, more outreach, and engagement, and lots of outlets for students to improve themselves as scholars and humans,” Williams said. “The pandemic is a challenge, and the library has had to face that like everyone else, but I am genuinely excited about what the future holds for Munday.”
When asked what the library’s #MoreThanWords motto meant, Williams emphasized not the building, but the idea of Munday.
“I think it’s important for people to remember that the library is not just a building, it’s not just databases or books, it’s an idea,” Williams said. “It’s a diverse, dynamic space and organization that can be what you need it to be.”