When she’s not researching in-between the bookshelves of Robert L. Carothers Library, Amanda Izenstark can be found shaping the minds of students as well as the University of Rhode Island’s understanding of information literacy.

Izenstark, a professor and librarian at URI, teaches LIB 250: Information Research Across Disciplines, a course that prepares undergraduate students to examine information in any field that they are entering.

I caught up with Izenstark over coffee as she transitions back to in-person.

When her work initially moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Izenstark was forced to remodel her collaborative approach to teaching for the new conditions she was working with.

“At that time, it made it harder for students to collaborate and work together, so I adjusted the class a little so people could be more individual learners,” she said. “Having people in different places physically was new for us all.”

Assisting students in the library also came with new challenges during the pandemic. Staying physically distant when trying to help each other, according to Izenstark, was a constant struggle.

As the library liaison, Izenstark searched for ways that students could get archival materials that are widely available as hard copies. Izenstark shifted materials online and said that fortunately, her courses were a huge success with the help of other library systems.

“We pivoted a bit and ordered more electronic books,” she said. “It was important to provide access to people who were working remotely. Luckily, a lot of other libraries went online as well, so there was a confluence of different approaches that worked well.”

Izenstark now notices a difference in the campus community after experiencing three hybrid semesters. She said that students have become more empathetic and appreciative of their time with others in the classroom and on campus.

While working from home, Izenstark missed the people more than anything. She said that being at home had its benefits, yet she has longed for social contact since March 2020.

“I love people,” Izenstark said. “I like being around students and materials in the library, and I love the environment. It’s a beautiful campus, so there’s the aesthetic aspect, and the ability to separate one’s work from one’s home life is really great.” 

To help herself cope during the pandemic, Izenstark adopted new activities and found comfort in many of her day-to-day habits. She said that walking and hiking in new areas kept her occupied, defining herself as a “chronic pedestrian.”

Izenstark said this academic and personal journey through COVID-19 has taught her an important life lesson.

“I think it all comes down to resilience,” she said. “Things are always changing, and we need to ask ourselves how to adjust on a daily basis.”

As COVID-19 continues to linger, Izenstark emphasized that it is crucial for students to continue abiding by University protocols to keep themselves and others safe.

Still, she has developed a newfound appreciation for meeting people face-to-face and getting to know students on a personal level after meeting so many students through a screen in her Providence home.

“In-person is so much easier and more comfortable than interacting on Zoom,” she said. “It’s better to learn someone’s name than to read it under their faces online.”

Izenstark encouraged the URI community to take advantage of this time together to make up for so many months apart. She will continue exploring academia and the streets of Providence as the world moves forward.