Meet Kaneisha, who collaborates with Columbia’s First-Generation, Low-Income (FLI) Network to provide access to course materials from the Libraries’ collections

Q: What was your transition from in-person work in Butler Library to remote work like? Describe your typical day while working from home.

I’m not sure I had a transition from in-person work in Butler Library to remote work in New Jersey. We transitioned to full remote work until further notice just two or three days after I joined the Libraries. I remember walking to the Manhattanville campus on 125th Street for my ID badge, retrieving my Libraries-issued Chromebook while I waited for a desktop computer for my office, and taking a tour of Butler facilitated by my colleague, Nancy Friedland, Librarian for Butler Media, Film Studies, and Performing Arts. I’m sure other introductions, tours, and such took place within those few days, but so much of March is a blur right now. I feel that most of my on-boarding experience was remote and I’m learning on the job each day. It’s been very eye-opening beginning my career as a librarian this way.

Q: How have you managed to provide online instruction for students now that the Libraries’ consultations and workshops are entirely virtual? What challenges have you experienced and how have you overcome those?

I’ve managed to provide online instruction for students through teamwork, from working with IT to learn about Zoom, to observing and practicing Zoom and remote instruction tricks with other librarians, to coordinating and resource-sharing with people within and outside of Butler. In some ways, the move to remote instruction has felt flawless. I generally feel comfortable with technology and feel there’s nothing YouTube, a quick Internet search, or a curated set of Twitter threads can’t teach me! The biggest challenge has been trying to catch up or become an “insider,” more or less. I’ve had to learn about Columbia’s workplace and academic cultures in isolation a bit. I haven’t had many opportunities to connect with students before they approach me with a need or before I’m facilitating a workshop or orientation. In that way, I feel that I’ve missed out on knowing my audience and my community more personally. Fortunately, colleagues have been very helpful with providing insights, perspectives, calendars, and contacts to address those challenges. Also, I’ve just been more open to failing, learning from what I didn’t know or didn’t understand at the time, and making adjustments – basically, extending myself all the grace that I can.

Teaching and Undergraduate Services Librarian Kaneisha Gaston recently returned to her office in Butler Library, which she left in mid-March 2020 when the Libraries transitioned to remote work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: You’ve collaborated with the FLI Partnership student group to provide course materials and resources to students in need. Describe the goals of the initiative and the Libraries’ role with the student group.

Research Collections and Services Librarian Ian Beilin, Head of Humanities and History Jeremiah Mercurio, and I are working with the FLI Partnership student group to address access to course materials during remote learning. To be honest, the move to remote learning has both illuminated and exacerbated an issue that existed pre-pandemic. Our goals became:

  1. To capture student need by using a form for students to request materials, working with Dean Jackson, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Core Curriculum, and Undergraduate Programs, to address needs funnelled through his office, and collaborating with Illeana Casellas-Katz, Associate Director of Multicultural Affairs and Community Outreach, and Undergraduate Student Life to better understand student needs.
  2. To address student needs using the Libraries’ collections and funding from the student group, made possible through gifts from the Columbia University Club Foundation and the Dean of Arts & Sciences.
  3. To create better support systems by exploring a stable budget for the FLI Lending Library and, in the future, collaborating with the FLI Network, students, Student Life, Academic Affairs, faculty, and staff to move more tangibly to open access and low- or no-cost course materials. 

This process allowed us to identify departments and courses that present the most financial stress to our students, ultimately impacting their ability to perform in their courses. This support was by no means methodical, but has provided many opportunities to assess how we define access and examine the limitations of some of our access policies and collecting practices.

We’re working with Ana Pérez-Villagómez, ‘21BC, the Butler FLI Partnership Library Student Assistant to drive the initiative. Ana has been such a driving force behind the initiative by connecting us with the Barnard FLI Partnership Library, where the idea originated, liaising between the FLI Network and the Libraries, drawing in support from the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and sorting through all requests we receive. We owe so much of this to her. There’s so much more that the institution can do to support our students and the Libraries are simply one of many key agents in developing lasting solutions.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in 2021 in your work in the Libraries?

I am looking forward to working – remotely until it’s truly safe – with different departments, offices, and student groups across campus to serve our students better. 

Kaneisha’s workspace in Butler Library is admittedly sparse because she joined the Libraries only two days before staff began to work remotely at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.