Top 5 Articles

Top 5 Articles on The Changing Landscape of Online Librarians

Compiled and annotated by Heather Dalal and Jessica O’Brien, co-chairs of the ACRL DOLS Research and Publications Committee. October 2021.

Along with many other professionals, in the past 18 months, librarians have had to adapt to meet the changing needs of their users. The five articles selected for this collection focus on ways in which distance and online librarians’ roles have changed in the current landscape. From new leadership roles and cross-training to increased support for teaching faculty, librarians have once again proven to be flexible and resourceful in times of change.

Ali, M. Y. & Gatiti, P. (2020). The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic: Reflections on the roles of librarians and information professionals. Health Information & Libraries Journal 37: 158-162.

Written from the perspective of a health sciences librarian in Pakistan, Ali identifies three responsibilities librarians should assume in a pandemic including promoting public health awareness, supporting researchers, and meeting the needs of all library users. Although the focus is specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ali’s thoughts about the roles of pandemic-era librarians are generalizable to librarians everywhere at any point in time.


  • The creation, dissemination, and sharing of evidence-based information to promote public health awareness that is critical during a pandemic, should not wane when COVID-19 is no longer a threat.
  • Librarians are essential for assisting faculty, students, and the general public to find and share current, reliable, and trustworthy public health information.
  • By forming relationships with medical staff and researchers, librarians can support research and information efforts by providing systematic reviews and digests of articles on topics of focus.
  • The virtual support that was required during the COVID-19 pandemic will remain a valuable service to the library community. From drive-up services to document delivery, librarians will continue to provide virtual and low-contact services.

Cox, C. (2020, June 5). Changed, changed utterly. Inside Higher ED.

From his position as the dean of libraries at Clemson University, Cox observes the current state of academic libraries and shares his predictions for how the roles of libraries and librarians may change in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout his article, he maintains that the talents, expertise, and attitudes librarians possess make them ideal advocates for transforming libraries and teaching and learning. Organized into four categories, Cox offers his outlook on collections, services, spaces, and operations in an annotated list format ensuring readability.

The following takeaways were selected across each of the four categories with a focus on accessibility which was a common theme.

  • Librarians will focus time and budgets on developing streaming materials and e-collections that are accessible to everyone.
  • Mass digitization efforts should be undertaken to make print collections and physical archives more accessible.
  • Librarians will serve as resources for educating faculty on fair use and as advocates for creative commons licensing.
  • Librarians will support open access publishing and open educational resources to help ensure equitable access to information.
  • Library websites are portals to information. Design should reflect best practices to be responsive and user-friendly.

Martzoukou, K. (2020). Academic libraries in COVID-19: A renewed mission for digital literacy. Library Management. 42(4/5): 266-276.

The pandemic has been a catalyst for change and reorganizing priorities in higher education and libraries. In this conceptual paper, Dr. Martzoukou calls for a renewed mission for librarians to address user access to online resources, design online learning, and foster the digital and media literacy skills of students and staff. The author focuses on the role of librarians to improve the digital competencies of users.

Prior to the pandemic, many universities were already involved in online learning but not all members of the university communities were prepared for the change. Online learning and teaching require different learning and digital communication skills. Instructors (including librarians) needed to learn pedagogy – such as how to best deliver classes that would normally have “hands-on” practice. Many students and staff needed to be trained to use online tools. Librarians can reinvent their roles by supporting students and staff as they develop both their information and digital literacy skills. Librarians are uniquely situated to be the “connecting link” between “information rich and digitally competent.”


  • The elearning role of the academic librarian will continue to evolve so librarians will need to continue their professional development in pedagogical theory and practice, online curriculum design, and learning tools.
  • Librarians need to remain open to collaborative learning and embrace a renewed agenda post COVID-19 to remain visible.
  • Librarians are well-positioned to make sure all users have equal access to library resources and services, including their digital competencies.

Wheeler, A., & Kyprianou-Chavda, V. (2021). “We are all distance learners now”: How distance learning informed a library team’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 1-15.

In this article, the authors describe their outreach to distance learners prior to the pandemic: the librarian provided highly-customized asynchronous video content and worksheets to support their synchronous active learning online sessions. Each class was rehearsed and pre-recorded. Videos, organized in playlists, were available to the learners prior to the live sessions. This served as a template for their work during the pandemic. The Senior Library Assistant collaborated with online learning and led activities such as searching in the discovery tool and managed the chat in the live sessions. The new work led to widening the role of the librarians and changing roles in the libraries’ support staff.


  • For synchronous sessions, it’s ideal to have at least two presenters and conduct a dress rehearsal (for pre-recording).
  • It’s best practice to share videos in advance with distance students.
  • Including staff in the teaching and learning process provides them with professional development.

Willenborg, A., & Withorn, T. (2021). Online learning librarianship in a fully online world: Findings (and advice) from a national study during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ascending into an Open Future: The Proceedings of the ACRL 2021 Virtual Conference, April 13-16, 2021, 356-364.

This is a follow up to Withorn & Willenborg (2020), a pre-pandemic qualitative study in which participants provided definitions of online learning and described their roles and challenges. For this article, the authors contacted the same 17 librarians during the pandemic for an update. Findings include how the libraries pivoted to fully online instruction with interactive web conferences, embedded services, and digital learning objects. Reference expanded to extended virtual reference via chat, email, and online appointments. Participants’ librarian colleagues started to work with online learners in their liaison areas.

Because of the pandemic, online learning librarians now serve in new leadership roles and spend more time training colleagues, and assisting them with their efforts. Most participants appreciated having more time to
focus on online learning, but many still felt overwhelmed and exhausted by the increased workload. The authors describe online learning outreach progress in three stages: developing, expanding, and then strategizing.


  • It’s very useful to find a support network from within your colleagues, your university, or professional organizations. Colleagues can be a wonderful resource for learning new tools and teaching strategies.
  • Seek out training. Focus on learning the tools at your institution. Also visit an online class session in your liaison area(s) to observe the teaching strategies by the instructor(s).
  • Getting started with online learning is a lot of work, but don’t get discouraged. Be kind to yourself as you navigate your evolving role. Preparing for online learning takes more time.

Further reading:
Withorn, T., & Willenborg, A. (2020). A foot in both worlds: Current roles and challenges of academic online learning librarians. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 14(2), 110-126.