Transforming Library Services in response to COVID-19

Since mid-March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic made its presence felt in the UK, we have been in the process of continuously transforming the services our libraries offer in response. Throughout this process our aim has been to keep you, our users, at the heart of our thinking, both in terms of your needs and your safety.

Here are some examples of the ways in which we’ve done this…

Advanced protection 1

During the first national lockdown, when the University initially moved into the “advanced protection” phase of its business continuity plan, we ensured that you continued to have access to resources as well as to professional support and expertise in the following ways:

  • Access to online books and journals through our website, making available additional content which publishers released for free in response to the pandemic;
  • Support via live chat and email, and 1:1 consultations with experts in our Academic & Research Services team via Zoom;
  • Providing regularly updated information on our website and via social media about service changes in response to COVID-19;
  • Running our “On Track for Your Masters” workshop programme for postgraduate taught students online, with greatly increased participation rates compared to the previous year;
  • Launching “Time to Write” in association with colleagues in Organisational Development, an online facilitated writing retreat for postgraduate research students and early career researchers.
piles of books and DVDs on the floor of the foyer
During this time we had a lot of returns to sort through!

Enhanced protection 1

Whilst our online offering remained available throughout the lockdown, with the enhancements described above, you were telling us that you still had a need for access to books we have in print but were not able to get online.
Our unique materials in our Special Collections were also required to support research. As national restrictions eased over the summer, and as we moved into “enhanced protection” we therefore developed and introduced the following services:

  • Click & collect, providing access to our physical collections at Colchester and Loughton. Our partners in Southend also introduced click & collect services at The Forum;
  • Scan & deliver, the ability to request extracts from items in our physical collections to be delivered electronically with no need to come onto one of our campuses;
  • Access to Special Collections via pre-arranged visits, or via material being scanned and sent out to researchers, both internal and external to the University.
For the improved safety for our staff and patrons we had Perspex screens installed at the helpdesk

Sustained protection

As we prepared for the new academic year in October, we wanted to make available as many of our libraries’ key services to you, whether you were returning or joining for the first time. We therefore planned the reintroduction of access to face-to-face enquiries and study space, taking into account all of the relevant COVID-19 recommendations that we would need to have in place.

  • Our Helpdesks in Colchester and Loughton and the InfoPoint in Southend reopened from the beginning of the Autumn term;
  • Bookable study space was available in our ground floor reading rooms in Colchester, in the Library & IT Centre in Loughton and in the Learning Hub in Southend;
  • We negotiated a deal with a key supplier of online textbooks with the aim of providing 100% of essential module readings online;
  • We worked to support academic staff in updating reading lists and choosing texts which we could make available, and responded promptly to reports from students about readings that they were not able to access;
  • We made films on reading lists available via Panopto (Listen Again) in place of the usual screenings;
  • We introduced a service via the British Library to have interlibrary loan books delivered directly to users;
  • Click & collect became a more responsive and intuitive book request service, with the ability to return to a more mediated click & collect if the external situation were to change…
Useable desk spaces were marked with a green dot, to help maintain social distancing

Back to enhanced protection

…which of course is what happened with the second national lockdown in November! In our second instance of enhanced protection we were able to retain some of the features introduced in sustained protection for the benefit of our users on campus:

  • We returned to click & collect at all 3 campuses;
  • Bookable study space remained available at all 3 campuses, initially with a reduction in opening hours in Colchester which were able to reinstate by mid-November.

And all the way back to
advanced protection

With the announcement of the third national lockdown in January 2021, we are now back in advanced protection. However, we continue to offer the range of services we have had available since the beginning of November, with some minor adjustments which we have designed to prioritise safety whilst causing low impact on your experience:

  • 87% of essential readings for modules being taught in the Spring term are available online, and we continue to work on increasing that percentage.
  • We’ve increased the number of books you can request for click & collect to 10.

Responding to your needs

Throughout this time, we’ve worked hard to keep your needs central to what we do, and to listen to what you’ve been telling us. Here are some of the things we’ve done to improve what we offer:

  • During sustained protection, we listened to your experiences of using our responsive book request service and extended the length of time you had to collect your books;
  • We’ve made adjustments to our bookable study space arrangements, first to increase the length of potential bookings from 2 to 4 hours, and second to remove the weekly limit for bookings. Both of these were in direct response to feedback received from you;
  • We’ve transformed the support we offer for developing skills by offering teaching and support online, including continuing to offer object based learning sessions using additional cameras;
  • We’ve regularly reviewed and added guidance to our FAQs, based on the questions you have been asking us;
  • In November, we designed an interactive Library Advisory Group puzzle to collect rich contextual feedback. Through this we learned that the arrangements we have made to mitigate the risk of transmission of COVID-19 are recognised and appreciated by students using library spaces.

We always want to hear more about your experiences of using our services, even though in the current situation we may be limited in the ways that we can respond to them.

Contact us at any time to tell us what you think, and ask to sign up to the Library Advisory Group mailing list for more opportunities to shape your library around you.

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