Options for Access: Collections During COVID

Published on October 15, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to academic libraries everywhere, including Western Libraries. Since March, we’ve been learning and adapting along with the rest of campus, and the world, as more is discovered about coronavirus. Our campus has moved to a hybrid in-person/remote-learning model and we’ve followed suit. In many ways, we are already well positioned to deliver services online and in-person. For decades, in addition to strengthening our physical collections, we have been building robust digital collections and online services to meet the demands of modern life. Even still, we have a lot to consider to continue to safely support the teaching, learning, and research needs of our community during the this time. We’ve come a long way since the beginning of the pandemic and none of it would be possible without our exceptional staff that stepped up to adapt services, and in particular, access to collections.

Enhanced digital collections

Our digital collection is rich and vast spanning databases, e-books, e-journals, and other scholarly materials. It’s designed to complement our physical collection, which poses a particular challenge when provincial guidelines require us to carefully monitor access to print materials. Since March, our Collections and Content Strategies team rose to the occasion by exploring a number of strategies to enhance the digital collection for students, staff, and faculty unable to access campus, including:

  • Where possible, we removed restrictions on access, which allows more users to simultaneously access content in e-books and e-journals.
  • We added over 300,000 new e-books to our collection – with 250,000 free from rights restrictions, allowing for a flexible user-experience.
  • We added over 6,000 new videos for streaming synchronous and asynchronous screenings to help enhance online teaching and learning.

In addition, we have also purchased many resources on request and continue to do so.

Course readings

With most classes online this year and the majority of our students studying remotely, one major area of focus for our team is to expand digital access to print collections used in courses via our Course Readings service. While it’s long been our practice to support the use of selected digitized chapters and articles within OWL course sites, the pandemic, provincial requirements to quarantine accessed or circulating library materials to protect health and safety, has made offering a print-based, short-term loan service impractical. To meet this additional challenge and expand what would normally be available digitally, we have increased our acquisitions of e-books and use permissions and have implemented emergency temporary access digital services to provide online course readings wherever possible. This way our remote scholars have access to critical course materials during the pandemic from wherever they are, seamlessly integrated into our Course Readings platform.

Access to print collections

In June we introduced digital delivery and no-contact pickup services for print collections. These options allow Western faculty, students, and staff to use the Request button in Omni, the library search tool, to request either digital delivery of an eligible print item (such as a scanned book chapter) or no-contact pickup of physical items. Since launch, the response from our campus community has been overwhelmingly positive. Our team has prepared over 5,700 items for no-contact pickup and scanned over 2,200 articles for digital delivery.

Omni has also been instrumental in meeting another need of our research community – the ability to explore the collection and make connections between scholarly works. With it’s virtual browsing function, researchers can simulate a shelf-browsing experience, and browse the collection by various options, including call number, author, and subject, scrolling back and forth through the virtual shelf.

The pandemic has taken a lot away from all of us, but it’s also helped our team make great strides when it comes to enhanced collections and new options for access to scholarly materials. We are so grateful for the lessons we’ve learned along the way and for our exceptional staff and their relentless commitment to serving our community. We’re also thankful for our community’s patience as we learn and adapt, and for embracing new ways of discovering and accessing collections. Necessity is the mother of invention and we can already see how some of our new services will help students, faculty, and staff in the future and compliment the best of our traditional practices.