What it takes for a CSU librarian to support learning on Semester at Sea

Monica Latham poses for a photo in Greece

CSI Librarian Monica Latham poses for a photo in Greece during her voyage on Semester at Sea.

Last month, Colorado State University librarian Monica Latham embarked on a three-month long voyage around the world as part of Semester at Sea, a multi-country study abroad program run in partnership between CSU and the non-profit Institute for Shipboard Education.

As the ship’s resident librarian, Latham has a unique opportunity to make students’ international learning experiences engaging and informed.

As CSU’s research and learning hub, the Libraries’ involvement with Semester at Sea reflects how interdepartmental collaboration can create positive student experiences through expanding access to materials and meeting the needs of instructors and students alike.

During the semester, students take classes in a variety of disciplines, with over 70 classes offered on board that allow them to study and sightsee.

For spring 2022, the ship’s voyage will span over 100 days across Europe, a “Mediterranean Exploration,”beginning in Italy and stopping in 13 countries until docking in Germany. Course offerings are tailored to students and range anywhere from anthropology to nutrition to political science, which requires a broad range of learning materials.

Semester at Sea Ship
Semester at Sea library

A look at the Semester at Sea ship and the library that’s aboard.

During the fall semester, Latham worked with library departments to prepare over 1,500 materials for the voyage – including journal articles, book chapters, books, TED talks, online articles, DVDs and YouTube videos, which can be accessed by students and faculty without internet access.

Books always stay on and with the ship, but the video and DVD collections are held at CSU.

The biggest challenges of hosting a library at sea include the size of the ship and advance preparations, according to Latham. Research in a university setting requires a lot of materials, but the on-board library is very small.

With limited internet access on board, Latham ensures students have the same academic experience they would have at CSU by compiling all class materials for students to use on board, which makes it challenging for students and faculty to request everything they need from the libraries before they leave.

To get requested resources, library employees with expertise in digital resources, instruction, copyright and purchasing collaborated to support faculty members and the academic success of students. The materials that each class needs run the gamut, as scientific classes use a lot of up-to-date news coverage while others require videos and pop culture materials, with one course logging over 200 videos.

“We’ve learned that it’s very important to communicate well and often with faculty about limitations that will be on board,” Latham said. “Most faculty have never been on board before, so they’re not quite familiar with those limitations they might encounter – there’s no internet on the ocean!”

Semester at Sea library photo with a stuffed CAM the Ram