Amid COVID-19, college libraries flex digital resources

A new survey shows a smooth transition for college libraries as they became completely digital resources due to the coronavirus
By: | May 19, 2020
Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, University Library, University of IllinoisLisa Janicke Hinchliffe, University Library, University of Illinois

Most departments had to rethink resources, pedagogy and support for students and staff as American campuses closed one after the other this semester. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the academic library has made the transition to completely digital services rather smoothly, according to a new survey by library staff at the University of Illinois.

Throughout March 2020, academic libraries transitioned from fully operational to partially open to a remote resource. Curiosity about how other libraries were faring through these changes inspired a survey from Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, professor and coordinator for Information Literacy Services and Instruction at University Library, University of Illinois, and Christine Wolff-Eisenberg, the manager for surveys and research at Ithaka S+R, a research and strategy group.

“We disseminated the survey via listservs, social media and through our professional networks and have been able to capture responses representing roughly one-quarter of the entire U.S. not-for-profit higher education sector,” says Janicke Hinchliffe. Of 3,000 academic libraries nationwide, over 800 responded to the Academic Library Response to COVID19 survey.

Library reference, research assistance and instruction services rapidly transitioned to digital formats. “Reference is primarily, and often exclusively, being provided via phone, email or chat,” says Janicke Hinchliffe.

In addition, digital library HathiTrust launched a temporary emergency access service that permits researchers at member institutions to access digital materials that correspond to physical books in their library.

Large-scale provision of tech hardware to support remote learning has mostly been undertaken by campus IT, not the library, the survey found. This leaves library staff to attend to the spike in requests for remote services. “[Administrators] can have confidence that the investments in digital library services and resources over the past two decades have positioned their libraries to pivot to remote and online delivery,” says Janicke Hinchliffe.