You’ve been working on your dissertation for what seems like forever, doing research abroad when you’re not teaching or holed up in the library, and making great progress – until one day, the library is closed indefinitely with your books still inside.
Benedetta Luciana Sara Carnaghi, a doctoral student in history, didn’t have to wait long to get what she needed to continue her work, thanks to a double-time effort by Cornell University Library staff to reunite graduate students and faculty with their research materials, when campus libraries first closed to the public March 15-16.
Carnaghi had a study carrel in Olin Library filled with books and other items for work on her dissertation on double agents in World War II. She also conducted archival research in Europe on external fellowships until the summer of 2019.
On Monday, March 16, Michelle Nair, faculty research space and carrel coordinator in the Library’s Public Services Office, emailed all carrel and locker holders to inform them that “if we needed our materials, the staff was going to collect them and arrange for us to pick them up at the front door of Olin Library as early as Tuesday,” Carnaghi said.
“I replied that I needed my materials,” she said. “Michelle replied, ‘No worries!’ … and on Tuesday morning she wrote: ‘We have your stuff ready for you to pick up! 11:15 work for you?’”
Public services assistant Michelle Hubbell had packed up five large boxes of books for Carnaghi, along with other research materials and personal belongings from her carrel. Nair retrieved items for Carnaghi’s friend giving her a ride to campus, Nick Huelster, a doctoral student in French literature.
“All Olin staff at some point helped me pull and bag items from faculty research spaces and graduate students’ carrels,” Nair said. “We managed to box library and personal material for over 50 graduate students and faculty,” who picked up from two to seven boxes each, she said.
With no on-site staffing, pickup service has since been temporarily suspended. See the Library’s COVID-19 service updates page for more information.
“It’s incredible that the library staff managed to prepare our materials for pickup so quickly,” Carnaghi said. “I imagine that they are under a storm of emails, because all the students and faculty are writing with anxious requests and complicated questions, but the librarians still find the time and energy to help everybody.
“And those locked carrels where we go work are real cages!” she added. “We basically live in those cages, so they are super messy. And yet, the librarians still managed to collect all our belongings and deliver them to us. We are very grateful for their hard work.”
Carnaghi said Nair, European Studies Librarian Sarah How and Archaeology, Classics, History and Medieval Studies Librarian Virginia Cole were especially helpful to her.
“I am one of the lucky students in this difficult situation,” Carnaghi said. “I have a lot of photos from my archival research in Europe the past two years, so I can always work [with] photos of primary documents. However, being able to refer to the secondary literature is also very important when you write your dissertation, so I was very glad to be able to retrieve the books.
“The students who are having more trouble are those who were conducting experiments in a laboratory or who were undertaking a specific research trip,” she said. “Many of those students saw their research suspended and they don’t really know when they will be able to resume their work, because we don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last.”
Cornell Library staff retrieved, checked out and packed five boxes of books plus other belongings from Benedetta Carnaghi’s carrel for pickup March 17.
Carnaghi said she has been sharing “very useful” information with her peers from Mary Beth Martini-Lyons ’19, administrative manager of the Department of Romance Studies, her former department. Carnaghi said Martini-Lyons repurposed an existing department blog to collect updates on topics relevant to academics and COVID-19.
“I kept forwarding the information she sent to Raymond Craib, the director of graduate studies in the history department, so that the graduate students in our department could also be informed,” Carnaghi said. “Professor Craib has also been incredibly helpful during the crisis, sending continual updates and constantly checking on us graduate students to see how we were doing and if there was anything he could do to improve our individual situation.”
Craib said Carnaghi has been a beacon of support as well, and “has been awesome about keeping me in the loop with emails that she is receiving from other parts of the campus.”
Carnaghi is from Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The entire country is in lockdown in an attempt to prevent the virus from further spreading, and the European Union approved a plan to close its external borders as well, so I cannot go home now,” she said. “But regardless of travel restrictions, it would be irresponsible to travel at the moment. The data shows that many people may have the virus even if they do not show any symptoms.”
She recently wrote to her student colleagues: “Try to keep up the good mood, everyone! We will get through this.”
This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.