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Students welcomed into a new community space with the AOK Library virtual study room

To meet the needs of students wherever they are, the Albert O. Kuhn Library has created a new virtual study room. The VSR, which was established by AOK librarian Katy Sullivan in early June based on the Shady Grove campus’ own virtual library, has since helped students focus on their work no matter their location.

At its roots, VSR is an accessible Webex room found on the library’s website. After clicking on the link, Sullivan, who set up the VSR, said the student will be welcomed into a community space dedicated to focus, relaxation and research. In short, they are in a virtual library.

“It’s a study environment. And, like in a real library, you can get as much help as you want, ” said Sullivan.

The VSR is staffed by four student-employees — including sophomore media and communications major Michael Washington — who are seasoned with at least a year’s worth of AOK library experience. In the pre-pandemic era, they worked with Sullivan to sort books and help students with research and citations. When students needed research help, whether that meant finding website links or books on a particular subject, they were the first to help. Now, they utilize their love for public service online.

“We are there to help you study and help you find links or books when research becomes overwhelming,” said Washington. “Basically, you can have a librarian as your study partner.”

Students are not required to have their video on, although it might help to minimize distractions, said Washington. But this does not mean that students in the room will have only a plain backdrop of generic grey avatars and random names to keep them company. Instead, a YouTube background of the VSR’s study playlist is projected on the screen. Washington said the music, arguably the best and most crucial component of any study session, has caused many heated debates. Though in an effort to appease most students, the VSR staff usually settles on playing chill, lo-fi hip-hop.

Besides determining the perfect study playlist, the student VSR employees work hard to create a helpful study environment by being available for any question from any student. 

Washington explained that the virtual room is “a one stop all-in-one experience for study and research help … it’s these little things that will take you back to the library.” 

The VSR has been such a success that a library director in California reached out to AOK staff to learn how to set up their own version of it.

Through their work with the VSR, both Sullivan and Washington maintain the AOK’s vision promoting intellectual and creative growth. 

“Students don’t thrive in a vacuum of no community, which is [clear] when working in a library. This is a way to fill that void,” said Sullivan.

Washington feels similarly. He explained that he admires UMBC for trying to develop new means of serving students and the community during the pandemic.

“The virtual study room is another example of that. So many people depended on the library, and since you can’t come to us, we are coming to you,” said Washington. 

While the VSR was born from a need to help students during the pandemic, Sullivan suggested that it could become a permanent AOK resource, especially considering that some students have social anxiety that prevents them from asking for help. Other pandemic-adjusted library services, such as curbside pickup, are even more likely to remain since employees have developed an efficient system of library-to-car delivery.

Currently, the VSR is undergoing construction to allow small study groups to meet in breakout rooms. This was one of the main ways that the physical library was used, so Sullivan sees it as a fitting expansion.

“I know the community’s and students’ needs. It’s my passion,” she said.

Written by Polina Kassir (