This webinar was moderated by Davis Erin Anderson, Assistant Director for Programs and Partnerships at METRO Library Council. The panelists include Kate Adler, Director of Library Services at the Metropolitan College of New York, Linda Miles, Assistant Professor and Librarian at Hostos Community College, CUNY and Sharell Walker, Student Outreach, Reference and Instruction Librarian at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. 

Stressful, frustrating, and surreal are some of the words used by our panelists to describe their transition to working from home. As Kate Adler mentions early in the conversation, “So much of libraries are about space. How can we provide community space at this time?” 

Out of necessity, each of the colleges represented on this panel shifted heavily to remote reference and instruction. Sharell Walker mentions that while some professors welcomed the change to online instruction, others understandably shied away. Meanwhile, each panelist recognized that the effects of COVID-19 would disproportionately affect students under the poverty level who may be lacking resources including the Internet. Issues surrounding informational inequity, access, equipment and community have always been in question; now, they’re at the forefront of conversation. 

Zoom’s security issues have been a facet of this WFH lifestyle. Adler’s library Zoom account was Zoombombed while hosting a community poetry slam recently. “I’ve thought a lot about questions of privacy and security and the ethos of privacy. Of course we’re worried about privacy and security. We have to be. We have to balance risk and rewards though, and this moment is so urgent ” Adler says. Linda Miles’ suggestions to help mitigate this risk include requiring people register for zoom webinars in advance and using passwords for meetings. 

Tools for reference and online instruction
The shift to working online spurred Hostos to implement LibChat. Linda Miles pointed out that staff needed to be trained on using the software and recommends testing new tools with another colleague, using the perspective of the librarian and student. Meanwhile, Adler’s library has used Library H3lp for three years, though integrating Zoom and screen sharing into reference has been an adjustment. Adler mentions that most issues experienced have been standard library database problems library staff has faced before, but the stakes seem higher when someone is watching your screen. Adler uses the telephone as an alternative when she can and Gimlet to track reference statistics. 

Before COVID, Walker’s college offered only limited online instruction; most of her one-shots were delivered in person. Now, she’s facing a higher demand for instructional content in a shorter period of time. BMCC uses BlackBoard to collaborate and Zoom for the creation of videos. Librarians send handouts through email. BMCC uses Screencast-O-Matic to create video tutorials, and Jing to make five minute videos. Emailing large files hasn’t been easy; the library is beginning to utilize their YouTube page in response to this.

Walker offers advice to those who are nervous about moving their instruction sessions to an online environment. “Don’t look at it like you’re teaching in a new platform. You’re doing the same type of speaking, you’re just looking into a tiny hole,” she advises. “I found that the students are more shy than anything. Make sure you mention the audio only option. If you don’t want to use the video, the student shouldn’t have to either.” 

Each college’s website shares resources students can use while navigating online instruction and programs. 

The last question posed to our panelists was an optimistic one: “What are you doing that makes you feel happy?” Answers from our panelists include keeping to a routine, taking long walks around the city, Zooming with friends, watching Grey’s Anatomy. We encourage you all to take time to think about this and if you are able, do something little that makes you feel joy everyday. We thank Kate Adler, Linda Miles, and Sharell Walker for their time and advice.



  • Each college has shifted heavily to remote reference and online instruction. While some colleges had these programs already in place, others had to implement new software when beginning to work from home in March.
  • Try out new software with colleagues from the perspective of both the student and the librarian. This could help you feel more comfortable using it on a daily basis for reference and instruction. 
  • We’re all concerned about Zoom privacy issues. Had anyone ever heard of Zoombombing before March? We recommend having people register in advance and/or using a password to enter meetings to help mitigate this risk.
  • Feeling camera shy? We all do. And if you’d rather not use video, opt for only using audio only. 
  • We’re all doing the best we can under the circumstances. Breathe. Repeat. You’re doing great.

Many thanks to our presenters for sharing their work with us. Please join us at one of our future events; a full listing can be found at