Teaching in the digital library

A partnership between teaching librarians and digital library staff

Matthew Weirick Johnson is humanities and social sciences librarian and lead for teaching and learning, email: mattweirick@library.ucla.edu, Salma Abumeeiz is research and instruction librarian, email: salmabumeeiz@library.ucla.edu, and Elizabeth McAulay is head of the digital library program, email: emcaulay@library.ucla.edu, at the UCLA Library

On March 10, 2020, UCLA announced a transition to remote teaching through the end of winter quarter.1 Remote teaching has been extended through all subsequent teaching periods through summer 2021.2 Similarly, remote work has remained a predominant work situation for the majority of UCLA Library staff, although some staff have returned to in-person work to support services that required on-site activity.3 A wider return to work will begin in July 2021. After this year and a half of remote teaching, UCLA is planning to return to primarily in-person instruction starting in fall 2021 in line with changes to Los Angeles County public health guidelines.4

The state of virus transmission and infection in our country has led to increased openings during the first half of this year, which thereby allowed the reopening of three UCLA Library buildings as student study space and Library Special Collections (LSC) for limited in-person services.5 Until May 2021 when LSC reopened, this closure meant no physical access to archival and primary source materials held in repositories on UCLA’s campus.

Even with the reopening of LSC, digital alternatives may still be favorable for some, or the only option for others, as use of physical materials is restricted to UCLA students, faculty, and staff (and then still only to those who can get to campus) and hours and space are limited for health and safety. These concurrent factors created and continue to precipitate unique opportunities to highlight the UCLA Digital Library, which showcases some of our unique materials. To expand use of these materials within the library and across campus, the Digital Library Program (DLP) partnered with the Library’s Teaching and Learning Functional Team to create internal professional development opportunities and external teaching and learning opportunities.


The Teaching and Learning Functional Team (TLFT) is responsible for developing and improving large-scale and specialized instructional services at the UCLA Library. TLFT provides professional development opportunities for UCLA Library staff related to pedagogy and builds internal and external partnerships related to teaching at UCLA. In response to the campus closure and transition to remote learning, TLFT has adapted its instruction activities to center accessibility, online learning pedagogy, active learning, and key technologies for remote learning.

One fruitful partnership that TLFT explored in the remote environment was with the UCLA Digital Library Program , which manages UCLA Library’s locally developed digital collections. This includes the UCLA Digital Library and the International Digital Ephemera Project, which both serve to store, preserve, and disseminate digital primary source objects online, drawn from unique collections at UCLA and at partner cultural heritage organizations.6

Image 1: A screen capture from one of the tutorials showing the Digital Library homepage. Both tutorials use screen sharing to demonstrate how to use the beta site as a starting-off point for searching the collections

Image 1: A screen capture from one of the tutorials showing the Digital Library homepage. Both tutorials use screen sharing to demonstrate how to use the beta site as a starting-off point for searching the collections

Though both groups are part of the UCLA Library, a robust partnership between TLFT and DLP had yet to be created. DLP tended to focus on building up collections and developing technology solutions without effectively connecting with peers in TLFT.

Consequently, library staff and course instructors elected to use physical collections housed within LSC and to partner with LSC staff for primary source instruction instead. The transition to remote learning provided an ample opportunity to advocate for Digital Library collections to sustain and increase the library’s primary source instruction while also allowing TLFT and DLP to forge a partnership. This collaboration allowed for ongoing feedback from library teaching staff to DLP, who could in turn implement improvements to bolster campus engagement with these digital collections.

Initiating the partnership

In April 2020, members of TLFT coordinated a remote collaboration session with members of User Engagement, the public services division of the UCLA Library, and members of DLP. Facilitators highlighted teaching opportunities with digital library collections, including learning activities centered around online collections. DLP staff also demonstrated search functionalities of the site and solicited feedback from teaching staff on how to communicate the addition of new search features and collections. The collaborative session revealed further opportunities for TLFT and the Digital Library to partner to support remote student success and to create materials that would be useful even when we return to in-person modes of teaching, learning, and research. Due to our digital working environment, it became easier to coordinate meetings and collaborations among UCLA Library staff members in different locations across campus.

Using open educational resources to highlight open collections

In a C&RL News article written earlier in the pandemic, UCLA librarians reported on the ways UCLA Library public services staff “embrace[d] remote technologies and scale[d] to meet the needs of a greater number of learners.”7 One approach involved creating a fast-paced and responsive workflow for developing new open educational resources (OER) using the learner-centered design process at the library, developed by the WI+RE (Writing Instruction + Research Education) team.8

In our partnership between TLFT and DLP, we used the WI+RE process to create two video tutorials that highlight the digital collections site and how students can make use of digital collections for coursework. To create the tutorials, we brought in our colleagues as learners experiencing the site and incorporated feedback from student workers in DLP as learners (UCLA students) and experts (DLP workers).

The tutorials, which are geared towards undergraduate students and other users who are new to the Digital Library, seek to accomplish four primary learning objectives:

  • identify the Digital Library as a resource for supporting primary source research;
  • identify the Digital Library website and how to access it;
  • understand the scope of the UCLA Digital Collections;
  • and understand how to use the search functionalities on the Digital Library site to find, discover, and access online primary sources using an assignment prompt.
Image 2: A screen capture from the second tutorial, titled “Using the Digital Library: Finding Sources,” which provides a sample assignment prompt that can be used to search within the beta site.

Image 2: A screen capture from the second tutorial, titled “Using the Digital Library: Finding Sources,” which provides a sample assignment prompt that can be used to search within the beta site.

Image 3: A screen capture providing an overview of the scope for the first tutorial titled “Using the Digital Library: An Introduction.”

Image 3: A screen capture providing an overview of the scope for the first tutorial titled “Using the Digital Library: An Introduction.”

These learning outcomes were informed by feedback from our stakeholders and sought to emphasize practical approaches to using the Digital Library.9 The tutorials are embedded easily in the UCLA learning management system and can be transported rapidly to a variety of learning contexts. This accessibility allows course instructors to easily incorporate the Digital Library into their courses and provides an opportunity for library instructors to scaffold their own primary source and database instruction. Following the library’s goal of supporting open materials, our tutorials are OER that anyone is welcome to use or update, and they highlight the open materials that are already available through our Digital Library. To this end, the tutorials are also available openly for non-UCLA users, and can be easily embedded or linked to external websites.

Future plans

While we have finished creating our two tutorials to promote use of the Digital Library, our budding partnership continues to grow, especially as the DLP continues to make improvements, updates, and additions on their website in response to feedback from TLFT. As the available digital collections continue to grow, so will our online instructional resources in the form of tutorials, workshops, and handouts. The Digital Library tutorials will also serve as a model for forthcoming instructional resources dedicated to the UCLA Center for Oral History Research, which recently launched a new website for highlighting multiformat oral history interviews.10 Further, we will continue to seek out collaborations, expanding across campus and looking toward our campus teaching support partners, such as the Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CAT) and the UCLA Online Teaching and Learning Initiative to share and market the resources at teaching forums, within CAT newsletters, and with instructional designers supporting course design at UCLA. In January 2021, DLP was able to hire a digital curriculum program coordinator (DCPC) serving as a member of TLFT and working to continue building this partnership. As a new TLFT colleague and bridge to the DLP, DCPC is helping us explore and identify new avenues for unity and collaboration across UCLA Library and across campus, while also providing that consistent and stable connection between TLFT and DLP.


During this time when we are physically separated, we have discovered we can work together on sustainable and open solutions that improve both remote and in-person instruction. For example, using recorded tutorials allows us to scale up instruction to a greater number of learners and courses, while also serving as a complement to synchronous instruction. Preparing for online classes has allowed us to highlight digitized materials and online OER that might not otherwise have gotten the same attention.

We’ve reached a period where some of our colleagues work occasionally on campus and some continue to work entirely remotely as we slowly phase back to offering our robust services. We are also now at the beginning stages of planning, across UCLA’s campus and within UCLA Library, for a return to in-person work and teaching. While the ongoing pandemic poses many challenges, there are still opportunities we can highlight and champion, and, specifically, opportunities that we hope to highlight as we plan for the future of work at the UCLA Library. Building sustainable digital infrastructure and fostering partnerships among units will continue to be invaluable throughout this pandemic and whenever we get back to “normal.” Working remotely has allowed us to develop new ways of working together and to create new partnerships in our own libraries and across campus that may not have otherwise come to fruition.


The authors would like to thank Ashley Peterson, research and instruction librarian at UCLA Library, for her participation in cofacilitating the initial workshop. We would also like to thank everyone who contributed to the creation of the tutorials discussed in this article: Doug Worsham, Renee Romero, Chris Lopez, Savannah Lake, Geno Sanchez, Joaquin Peres, Jake Tompkins, Syann Lunsford, Julia Tanenbaum, Katherine Ramirez, and Rachel Abrahams.


  1. COVID-19 resources, “Transitioning UCLA to Online Instruction,” March 10, 2020, https://covid-19.ucla.edu/transitioning-ucla-to-online-instruction/.
  2. COVID-19 and vaccine resources, “Plans for Summer Sessions Instruction,” January 29, 2021, https://covid-19.ucla.edu/plans-for-summer-sessions-instruction/.
  3. COVID-19 and vaccine resources, “Plans for Spring Quarter Remote Instruction and Work,” January 11, 2021, https://covid-19.ucla.edu/plans-for-spring-quarter-remote-instruction-and-work/.
  4. COVID-19 and vaccine resources, “Planning for a Fall Return to Campus,” April 2, 2021, https://covid-19.ucla.edu/planning-for-a-fall-return-to-campus/; Los Angeles Department of Public Health, “Protocol for Institutes of Higher Education,” accessed October 19, 2020, http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/coronavirus/docs/protocols/Reopening_HigherEducation.pdf.
  5. COVID-19 and vaccine resources, “UCLA to Reopen Certain Spaces at Limited Capacities, Safety Remains Paramount,” March 10, 2021; UCLA Library. “Library Welcomes Bruins Back to Designated Campus Spaces,” accessed May 11, 2021, https://www.library.ucla.edu/news/library-welcomes-bruins-back-designated-campus-spaces, https://covid-19.ucla.edu/ucla-to-reopen-certain-spaces-at-limited-capacities-safety-remains-paramount/.
  6. These collections are available at https://digital.library.ucla.edu and https://idep.library.ucla.edu.
  7. Tranfield, M. Wynn, Doug Worsham, and Nisha Mody, “When You Only Have a Week: Rapid-Response, Grassroots Public Services for Access, Wellness, and Student Success,” C&RL News, accessed October 12, 2020, https://doi.org/10.5860/crln.81.7.326.
  8. The WI+RE Team, “About WI+RE,” WI+RE - Quick and practical research and writing tutorials, collaboratively designed by students at UCLA, accessed October 12, 2020, https://uclalibrary.github.io/research-tips/about/.
  9. Salma Abumeeiz, Kian Ravaei, and Hannah Sutherland, “Using the UCLA Digital Library,” Tutorial, WI+RE - Quick and practical research and writing tutorials, collaboratively designed by students at UCLA, accessed October 8, 2020, https://uclalibrary.github.io/research-tips/digital_library/.
  10. “UCLA Center for Oral History Research: Documenting the histories of Los Angeles,” accessed May 6, 2020, https://oralhistory.library.ucla.edu/.
Copyright Matthew Weirick Johnson, Salma Abumeeiz, Elizabeth McAulay

Article Views (Last 12 Months)

No data available

Contact ACRL for article usage statistics from 2010-April 2017.

Article Views (By Year/Month)

January: 23
February: 13
March: 22
April: 15
May: 25
June: 10
July: 23
August: 10
September: 9
October: 12
November: 5
January: 0
February: 0
March: 0
April: 0
May: 0
June: 0
July: 420
August: 99
September: 52
October: 31
November: 42
December: 12