Student use of Belk Library services soars

Although the number of visitors to Belk Library has declined significantly since the introduction of COVID-19 safety protocols, library staff have recorded an increase in interactions with Elon students, faculty and staff.

In the face of obstacles posed by COVID-19 safety measures, staff at Elon’s Carol Grotnes Belk Library have continued to provide excellent service to the university community.

Belk Library staff recently conducted an analysis of the library’s efforts from 2019 to 2020, finding a 199-percent increase in patron interactions, despite a sharp decline in physical visitors amid physical distancing measures. In 2020, one in 34 visitors reached out to library staff for in-person or virtual assistance, compared to one in 96 visitors in 2019.

“I think initially we were considering that if people weren’t in the building, they weren’t going to find us,” said Dean of the Carol Grotnes Belk Library and Associate Professor Joan Ruelle. “But I think what we found is that they did – they just found us in other ways.”

Students working at Belk Library computer stations during the fall 2020 semester. 

The campus community interacted with library staff via chat, video, email, phone and in person. Belk Library’s successful transition to a virtual campus model in spring 2020 – and then to a hybrid model in fall 2020 – was due to the hard work of library staff, as well key resources already in place at the library.

Prior to the transition, Belk Library already offered physical and virtual services. Students, faculty and staff had access to librarians via chat and virtual appointments, and the library had invested in a significant collection of e-journals and e-books, making the transition to virtual services more manageable for library staff and visitors.

“I think we were well poised to make the move to remote because both the students and the library staff were very comfortable doing both,” Ruelle said.

As Belk Library continues to offer a full range of services through the spring semester, staff are already considering ways to keep up the momentum in years to come. Ruelle plans to make it a priority to engage current first-year students who haven’t had the opportunity to connect with Belk Library this year. Staff will also look to garner more interest among first-year students for Elon’s personal librarian program, which pairs students with their own librarians.

As Belk Library has adapted to COVID-19 safety measures, staff see last year’s increase in interactions as evidence of the library’s meaningful role in the university community.

“We’ve been working for years to build these relationships and connections with people across campus,” Ruelle said. “I think the fact that things not only continued but grew while we were physically remote just felt like an affirmation of the partnerships we’ve built over the years.”

Elon students, faculty and staff can continue to access Belk Library in person, with a valid Phoenix Card, or interact with library staff virtually here.