Through the Pandemic and Back: Welcome Back Pioneers! 

A Message from the Dean of Cheng Library, Dr. Edward Owusu-Ansah

Dr. Edward Owusu-Ansah

Dean of Cheng Library

     As I walked through the Cheng Library on August 25, 2021, things felt different. The updated and inviting look of the ground floor reference and open study areas was a pleasant change to herald the beginning of a new semester and reinforce our concern for the environments in which our students learn, research, and socialize. However, the difference this time was not due to spaces and furniture only; there was a palpable air of normalcy, an unusual feeling for the past eighteen months. This was the first time in a long time that the library was opening its doors to a full and vibrant in-person experience for all William Paterson University students, faculty, and staff. It was a refreshing moment. 
     Yes, we still had to wear masks in the library building and across campus, but we were back as a community, back to doing things that just a year and a half ago felt so standard only to be disrupted by a pandemic with the magnitude and effect of which none of us could have imagined. While the spread of a new variant of the menacing virus still threatened a full return to past routines, it felt so good to see so many Pioneers back in their familiar and lively spirit, mingling and working, rushing to class, or just simply chatting and laughing.
     In my previous (spring 2021) article in this newsletter, I wrote that COVID-19 had reinforced and added greater urgency to the importance of digital collections that are widely and easily available and accessible. I further noted the need for libraries to develop discovery solutions that empower users to operate independently in their information discovery, construct robust user education and support solutions that are appealing, effective, widely diffused, and adequately publicized, and build effective virtual collaboration and communication channels. Throughout the pandemic Cheng Library lived up to the promise and expectations that such realities dictate. Our latest academic year was no different in that regard.
     We were here when many campus activities and classes were predominantly online. However, being physically on campus did not mean a reduction in our virtual services or pursuit of online solutions.  Your librarians and library staff worked even more on expanding and improving those services, understanding that the lessons of the pandemic provided further evidence for the wisdom in expanding such services and solutions in the areas of knowledge curation, mediation, dissemination, and access. Today’s academic libr-aries were being reminded now more than ever that the need to be both virtual and brick and mortar is an existential imperative. Our users have informed us over the years of their overwhelming preference for several virtual solutions, just as they have continually expressed their appreciation for in-building experiences as well. 
     Consequently, fiscal year 2021 at Cheng Library saw a return to traditional operations, even as the continuation of predominantly remote teaching and learning on campus dictated persisting with many of the operational changes that had been made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There was greater in-person presence of our personnel, even as our librarians engaged in more remote activities and worked a mixed shift that had them on campus in-person half of their scheduled days and the other half remotely from home. The library’s support for student learning and success as well as faculty teaching and research effectiveness never waned; it proceeded without compromising quality or commitment. 
     A virtual campus scavenger hunt created by our Outreach Librarian received the 2021 NJLA-CUS/ACRL-NJ Technology Innovation Award; the Library hosted/co-hosted several civic engagement activities that allowed 296 students to earn credit towards their WP LEADS Civic Engagement Badge. Library instructors conducted some 270 information literacy sessions virtually and in-person. Technical services and user services librarians worked together to implement programs and solutions that improve the user experience, enhance communication, and facilitate greater search efficiencies to ensure better and faster access to needed/requested materials. The library installed a self-checkout system to allow independent patron borrowing of physical items from the collection in support of greater user independence with checking out and returning library items. Other behind-the-scenes activities led to an increase in the size of our e-collections and improvement in their currency.
     In support of faculty scholarly efforts, we continued to administer the University’s program for supporting open access publishing. We also moved online with a valued practice of honoring colleagues who publish scholarly and creative works in the previous year by holding a virtual university authors reception for our 2020 authors and included our 2019 authors, whose reception had been disrupted by the onset of the pandemic. You can watch the reception and hear remarks from the authors at
     With national and state conversations focusing on the cost of college education and the state of New Jersey promoting through legislation textbook affordability for students, William Paterson University committed to embracing those initiatives and helping our students by making textbooks more affordable through encouraging faculty to adopt open educational resources. This attempt at social equity and equal access through educational affordability employs the adoption of openly licensed, freely available, course materials as a tool to ensure that course texts do not become one of the many barriers or challenges to student success. In addition to the social and economic case for open educational resources, these solutions made increasingly efficient through modern technology also allow greater flexibility and customization. Instructors can be creative in dynamically personalizing materials, while being mindful of their students’ budget. 
     Library faculty can be partners in the process of adopting open educational resources by collating and presenting materials in support of teaching faculty efforts and can become an integral part of the discovery, selection, and adoption process in active collaboration with their teaching colleagues. It is a role that the librarians at the Cheng Library have embraced. They look forward to working with their classroom colleagues and have prepared guides, assembled tools, and hope to actively engage through the library’s liaisons to the academic departments all faculty who elect to work with them on making their courses free of textbook costs or with lower textbook costs. Our efforts were recognized by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which noted in its MSCHE Visiting Team Self-Study Evaluation Report: “William Paterson University’s Library did an excellent job during COVID of pivoting to Distance Education and implementing/assisting Open Educational Resources.”
     Progress in the development of open content has addressed many of the quality concerns that initially dogged adoption of open educational resources. In a 2015 study of over 16,000 students Lane Fischer, John Hamilton, Jared Robinson, and David Wiley (A Multi-Institutional Study of the Impact of Open Textbook Adoption on the Learning Outcomes of Post-Secondary Students) concluded: “In three key measures of student success - course completion, final grade of C- or higher, course grade - students whose faculty chose OER generally performed as well or better than students whose faculty assigned commercial textbooks.” 
     As we begin another semester unlike the semesters before, having lived through and learned from a pandemic that limited physical interactions and forced adoption of technological solutions to ensure continuity of content delivery and knowledge access, we are glad to say we have learned and are even better prepared for the challenges ahead. We have a better appreciation for the importance of remote services. Your library, which worked relentlessly to make anywhere anytime access to its resources and services a reality even when physical interactions were the order of the day, is as ready as ever to deliver upon the promise and demand for remote access, while still embracing the vital services that support the continued need for a physical presence. We look forward to your input so that we can serve you even better.  

     Welcome back Pioneers! And this time welcoming back everyone feels so rewarding. 


October 12, 2021