Latest service and space updates: VCU Libraries COVID-19 response

Innovations in Teaching and Outreach 2018-19

November 1, 2019
Jenny Stout teaching a class, with a student in the foreground, and a white board behind her.

As teachers, VCU librarians are constantly in classrooms, on webinars, giving workshops, developing instructional videos and other online teaching tools and conversing in one-on-one sessions. Liaison librarians to the Schools of Medicine and Nursing teach orientation sessions for all incoming students. On both the Monroe Park and MCV campuses, librarians teach discipline-specific sessions in every school and many programs. They customize lessons to fit into particular courses or meet a faculty member’s specific needs – whether it be teaching evidence-based medicine practices or how to do primary source research for a history class. Flexible and knowledgeable, many librarians spend much of their time in teaching roles. Recent innovations in teaching and outreach include these:   

Teaching Online

Student success is always a No. 1 priority for VCU Libraries. Meeting students’ needs in the digital age increasingly demands changes in how we teach. In the previous academic year, a robust new group of 20 webinars ushered in a new era of teaching for librarians on both campuses.Thanks to technological improvements in classrooms at VCU Libraries, some sessions were taught in-person and online simultaneously. Others were recorded sessions or taught only online. Sessions are archived so that students can watch them for just-in-time training on demand. In 2018-19, 25 health science related webinars were offered. Some topics addressed particular students, such as “Databases for Nurses” or “PubMed for Pharmacists.” One session on citation management tools had broad appeal and reaped over 100 views. These online sessions often attract more participants than in-person sessions.  

Tech Tuesdays  

To introduce hands-on technology experimentation on the MCV Campus, the Innovative Media Department, which runs The Workshop at Cabell Library, introduced regular sessions at Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences. Evaluations for these well-attended sessions were positive. This successful teaching exercise helped leadership move forward initiatives to improve library spaces with both a video and audio studio and a makerspace that will be open for use in 2019-20 on the medical campus. The lineup

Access 4 All Symposium

In partnership with a class project organized by students in GSWS (Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies) 391: Resistant Bodies led by Bethany Coston, Ph.D., this symposium and interactive presentation explored actual and potential accessibility concerns on VCU’s campuses, as well as possible solutions. Some concerns pertained to physical disability, such as uneven sidewalks and buildings without elevators, while others focused on neurodivergence and spaces or situations that, for instance, could trigger anxiety. The entire VCU community, including central administration, was invited to attend in hopes of sparking change. VCU Libraries sponsored this class project presentation. 

Dissertation and Thesis Writing Retreats

As part of a growing initiative to better serve advanced graduate students, VCU Libraries’ introduced a two-part writing marathon for graduate students working on their culminating projects. Research Data Librarian Nina Exner created and taught in-depth workshops on preparing to research a dissertation or thesis and on writing these final papers. Approximately 45 from a variety of disciplines attended and said that they were glad to be surrounded by their peers and inspired to make headway on their writing. Additional innovations in teaching and outreach included a series of peer-to-peer talks by post docs, a half-day conference on Science Speaks exploring how to communicate about scientific research and Open Science Workshops.

OpenCon Virginia

Following up on a successful first year in 2018, the 2019 OpenCon Virginia brought together 130 faculty, librarians, researchers and students from across the state for a day-long  conference around the subjects of open-access publishing, open data and open education. In addition to a full schedule of lightning talks, panel discussions and workshops, the opening and closing sessions invited conference participants to explore individual and collective ways to create more open systems of research and education. The leaders of the IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services)-funded OA in the Open project led a discussion about the meaning and role of collective action in open-access collection development. VIVA (the Virtual Library of Virginia) led a brainstorming session on ways to build statewide collaborations for open and affordable education. And the DORA (Declaration on Research Assessment) community manager led the conference in an activity to imagine how people might better value the contributions researchers make to their disciplines outside of traditional measures like journal prestige.   

Science Speaks

We live in a world where science informs our everyday decisions, from what kind of car to drive to the best diet for long-term health. In order for us to make those decisions well, scientists must be able to communicate their research beyond traditional academic spheres. The VCU Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research and VCU Libraries present a half-day session on science communication for researchers, faculty and students. 

The Business of Scholarship
Educating the VCU academic community about the crushing business practices and unsustainable costs of academic publications and to mark International Open Access Week, students, faculty and staff are invited to a screening of Paywall: The Business of Scholarship. The new documentary focuses on the need for open access to research and science and questions the rationale behind the $25.2 billion a year that flows into for-profit academic publishers, examines the 35–40 percent profit margin associated with the top academic publisher Elsevier and looks at how that profit margin is often greater than some of the most profitable tech companies like Apple, Facebook and Google.

A Conversation on Comics Arts

In partnership with the School of the Arts, VCU Libraries presented comic industry giant Mike Mignola on stage with TyRuben Ellingson, chair and professor of the VCUarts Department of Communication Arts. Mignola is best known for his distinctive art style and creation of the pulpy genre-bending Hellboy, a multimedia franchise rooted in comics and spanning live-action movies, animation, games and more. Blending elements of horror, detective fiction and super heroes, Hellboy has become a fan favorite since it appeared in 1993. In addition to his work as a graphic novelist, Mignola has also served as a concept designer, production designer and executive producer on multiple films. On the eve of the release of a Hellboy movie reboot, Mignola spent an evening in unscripted conversation and dialogue with a packed house of students yearning to learn. 


VCU Libraries and the Superscripts, a student group within the VCU Department of English, presented a transcribathon at James Branch Cabell Library.  At the transcribathon, people get together to transcribe and encode handwritten Early Modern documents in conjunction with the Folger Shakespeare Library's Early Modern Manuscripts Online project. Although all of the documents have been scanned and are available in digital form, they have not been previously transcribed completely, and those who are familiar with handwriting from the period know that deciphering such documents is not always easy. The purpose of the event is to help the Folger Shakespeare Library make clean transcriptions of its documents so that the documents are more readable and thus more usable for researchers and students around the globe. A transcribathon is both a service project and a learning opportunity for participants.


In celebration of the importance of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and maps and their ability to connect people, regions and systems, VCU Libraries joined with hundreds of organizations around the world to mark GIS Day on November 14, 2018.  This inaugural half-day celebration included short talks, instruction about ArcGIS software, and a panel discussion about GIS careers.

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