As the novel coronavirus pandemic brought university campuses to a standstill, a group of Turkish students launched a virtual library to continue to help each other despite being isolated in their homes.
Four students across different disciplines started the initiative and shared the idea. Soon, the library had begun to attract visitors from Turkey, the UK, Germany and others.
One of the masterminds behind the project, Ahmet Bahaddin Ersoz, is a PhD student at Middle East Technical University in the Turkish capital Ankara and was struck by the news that Turkey would be completely shutting down universities as part of its measures against the virus.
"As graduate students, we are so used to working at libraries, study rooms and offices. Most of us don't have experience of working at home for such a long time. Since we can't meet our friends to study together, we were feeling quite lonely. Most importantly, we needed to feel like we weren't alone in having difficulty in concentrating," he said.
Upon learning that universities would remain closed until the end of the semester, the group together came up with the idea of setting up the virtual library.
Coming across study videos on Youtube, the group decided to carry this to their virtual platform, inviting their colleagues and friends and create a study-friendly atmosphere.
"We tested the current video-conference software and prepared a live broadcast platform. We wanted participants to join, open their cameras, see 20-25 people working at the same time and feel motivated by this. We shared the idea with our friends first, then it spread through a larger group," said Yasin Goktas, another organizer and master's student at Swansea University in the UK.
The library link and password are open for 24 hours and anyone can log in at any time.
Each study session is managed by an administrator, who also helps keep motivation and productivity up via a method known as Pomodoro, in which work is separated customarily into 25-minute intervals set by a timer on the screen with short breaks in between.
The administrator also shares motivational instrumental music on-screen for those who would want to listen without having to spend time to find the individual tracks.
- Library open to all
Egesel Bozgeyik, another member of the group, said: "We didn't only invite academics to our library. It's open to all students who are studying for their exams or simply people who have lost motivation to even read at home,
"Most of the participants are academics, so we also started some activities aimed at them. Every Tuesday and Thursday, we invite one academic or graduate student to speak about their experiences and work."
The fourth member, Ayse Guzel from Ankara University, said: "Along with these creative leisure activities, participants even get together to play games online in their free time. We started this and it turned out to be a great platform. Any group of students or close friends can do the same. We know how vital it is, especially for postgraduate students, to get together and be motivated by one another's pace of work."
- Motivation, friends, focus
Aysel Akbulut, a teacher and master's student, heard about the virtual library on Instagram.
"I'm trying to decide on the subject for my thesis and I think I'll do research on enhancing teachers' abilities and capacities. The virtual library motivated me very much, just like in a normal day, I wake up, sort out my daily chores and log into the library. Even being able to wave at my friends while studying keeps me going under quarantine," she said.
Akbulut said she was very happy with the atmosphere and friendship in the library.
Another user, a Turkish PhD student in the UK said: "We were in search [for something like this] in the first weeks of quarantine -- both anxious and trying to keep on with our work. Usually, a PhD student can enter any university building in the UK 24/7, so we were kind of in shock,
"The virtual library brought this to our homes. Being in front of a camera forced us to wear decent clothes and 'get us out of the house' in a way. Personally, I got used to using Pomodoro technique with virtual library, which I found very effective."
Mehmet Ali Yavuz, a master's student in Germany, said the virtual library had become a great source of motivation under quarantine, while being subject to so much bad news from all over the world, especially Europe.
Another participant, who just finished their master's degree in marine trade, said: "I always loved going to libraries to work. I had lost motivation to prepare for my PhD, but now, when I see others working with me, I can work two or three hours a day."
"In quarantine, every day started feeling like exactly the same, which got very depressing. In a postgraduate student's life, every day is already more or less similar, so we definitely needed a motivational push. I can work longer now when I log in to the library and I can work at nights as well, without feeling alone," said a second-year PhD student in the UK.
Lastly, another postgraduate student with ADHD and another participant in the library said: "I've always found it very hard to concentrate on work even in normal times. I always wanted to start a similar virtual platform even in 'normal' times, then I came across this initiative. It was such a good coincidence."
Many virtual library-goers say they will continue using it for reading, studying on weekends or in the middle of the night and simply socializing even after lockdown measures come to an end.
Bringing together a very diverse group of academics, students and professionals, the library's virtual doors are open to all who are in search of a study platform they can access online from homes.