At Exact Editions, we know that Covid-19 has presented a number of challenges to libraries across the globe. We’re therefore taking the opportunity to focus this library advisory blog update on the complications that Academic Libraries have faced over the course of the pandemic and the efforts made to overcome them.
The Board Members:
- Rick Anderson, Brigham Young University
- Bill Maltarich, New York University
- Peter Brantley, University of California Davis
- Megan Heady, West Virginia University
- Neil Davies, Durham University
- Angus Sinclair, Goldsmiths University of London
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With the increased need for online/remote learning this year, how has the library had to adapt in order to facilitate this?
The board were largely in agreement that the preference is now for online materials over print. In many cases online materials have already been the main focus for a number of years but they have become increasingly important since March 2020. The effects of the pandemic have not only proved problematic to students who need to access resources for their studies but it has also caused a wealth of issues for librarians who are no longer able to work onsite.
An important adaptation for libraries was the need to make staff and patrons aware of the range of electronic resources the library already offers and to make sure they are provided with alternatives to print/in person based teaching. The general consensus was that a lot of effort has gone into the promotion of existing electronic materials.
Lastly, another change that came out on top across the board was the need for a transition to online classes. Libraries have had to move from face-to-face training to instruction and consultation via Zoom, offering students a “virtual reference desk experience” instead of the usual in person contact.
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We assume the pandemic has caused a need for a shift from print to digital resource. Has the acquisitions process had to change at all in order to adapt to the new circumstances? And will it be an ongoing adaptation?
It was noted across the board that there has been a preference for online materials when acquiring new titles for some time now. However, more recently they have had to focus on finding digital options for pre-existing print serials. This has been particularly important for courses that rely on print books/serials and films.
One member noted that all resources that appear on reading lists, marked as “Essential Reading” must now be available electronically and if no e-version exists, the Faculty Librarian who looks after that department is informed and they will work with academics to find suitable titles that are available electronically.
It was mentioned that some libraries have increased their willingness to purchase electronic resources that are user-limited in order to provide students with the titles needed. However, a user-limited option is not preferable and is therefore not likely to be a lasting change. The main concern expressed across the board regarding acquisitions was that the price of titles in e-format often outweighs the price of print, creating a budget challenge. Therefore, ensuring that any digital options are available to an unlimited number of users is a priority.
It is also important to note that these changes in acquisitions largely depend on the level of impact the pandemic has had on the library. Some libraries have remained opened and therefore have not needed to make such drastic alterations, whereas others have been required to make changes rapidly. The predominant consensus, though, is that the shift to electronic resources where possible is likely to be a permanent change.
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Have there been any offers or tools provided by publishers to aid libraries during the pandemic that you have found particularly useful?
We received differing responses in answer to this question but it seems the most valuable offering has been the pricing freeze issued by many publishers which assists libraries to navigate the budget challenges and financial uncertainty they are experiencing as a result of the pandemic. A selection of other offers and tools are mentioned below:
- Publishers setting up trials at short notice and temporarily expanding access to databases and journal collections. It was noted that any extra content made available by publishers, particularly during the initial stages of the pandemic, was extremely useful as libraries had not yet had the chance to build up their electronic resources.
- Hathi Trust (although not a publisher) was mentioned multiple times as an extremely useful tool, having provided gratis access during the pandemic.
- It was also mentioned that a great deal of COVID-related research was made Open Access, which was vital for libraries with medicine schools.
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What other challenges (if any) has the COVID19 pandemic posed to the library? What measures has the library had to take in order to counteract these?
Again, we received an interesting range of answers to this question, but the most predominant challenge referenced was the need for remote working. The adjustment to this new type of working, as well as the new online tools needed, had to be a quick transition. Staff had to cope with drastically changed workflows and procedures, particularly when it came to handling print resources and the setting up of new remote services such as postal loans, Click & Collect and Scan&Deliver.
Health and safety concerns were cited as another key issue. Libraries that managed to remain open last year often had to shut down popular study areas in the library and stay on top of mask compliance to ensure that everyone was safe. In addition to this, the library space also became limited in order to ensure that social distancing was in place. It was also mentioned by one member that the library space was needed for a vaccination hub.
Finally, budget uncertainties were listed as another challenge. Many libraries experienced some budget cuts due to the pandemic which made acquiring the necessary resources much more difficult. It was also noted that it is challenging to determine budget when there are so many uncertainties surrounding student numbers at this time.
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This was an extremely valuable round of questions and has given Exact Editions a useful insight into the challenges libraries are facing. We would like to reiterate our appreciation, as always, to the time and effort provided by the Library Advisory Board Community.
If you’d like to join the conversation, please do get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.