The Library’s innovative response to COVID-19

Protecting the health and safety of the University of Chicago community while sustaining access to our extensive collections, programs, and services has been at the core of the Library’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a year of changing conditions, the Library has repeatedly innovated, successfully operating remotely and on-site as a hub for intellectual discovery and rigorous learning, in alignment with University operating plans and in response to our campus community’s needs.

All divisions of the University have been facing unprecedented and evolving challenges since March 12, 2020, when President Zimmer and Provost Lee announced the University would fully transition to remote teaching for the Spring 2020 Quarter. On March 20, all Library buildings were temporarily closed. The Library’s aim since this time has been to encourage experimentation, collaboration, diversity, and bold thinking to meet the needs of an ever-changing academic environment. Following the announcement, Library staff swiftly pivoted to providing UChicago faculty, students, and staff with online access to 5.4 million electronic books; over 220,000 electronic journals and newspaper titles; 1,372 databases; and 1,100 streaming videos. Library subject specialists shifted to a more centralized role as the representative of the Library to disciplines and departments, anchored by the enhanced Ask a Librarian email and chat service. Requests for online instruction increased as well.

In preparation for the Autumn 2020 Quarter, academic leaders, faculty, public health experts, and staff across campus carefully planned for an innovative hybrid model, which provided a layered approach for the resumption of virtual and on-campus programs and operations. Brenda L. Johnson, Library Director and University Librarian, sat on several campus COVID committees and worked to solicit faculty and administrative priorities for services and feedback on plans as they took shape. As a critical partner for campus research and a vital hub for campus identity, the Library convened a COVID Services Strategy Group to facilitate the transition, safety protocols, logistical planning, and communications for the safe resumption of spaces and services for research. In accordance with the University’s Health Pact, the Library’s policies and procedures were developed in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and reflected community needs. Proposed plans were also discussed with several student groups to understand their perspectives and priorities, including the Library Student Advisory Group (LSAG).

The Autumn Quarter’s hybrid model was designed to be a flexible, phased approach so that we could stand at the ready to adapt or halt our in-person services and access to Library spaces as the campus or state situation changed. While the Library’s bookstacks temporarily remain closed to browsing by patrons, more than 40% of the Library’s print collections have been made available online through the HathiTrust Emergency Temporary Access Service. Other print materials can be requested and picked up by reservation using the Paging & Pickup service, which the Library began offering in mid-June. The Library also launched a program to offer quiet, individual study spaces on an online reservation-only basis.

We are proud to continue the research and education at the heart of the University of Chicago’s distinctive academic community. As the effects of COVID-19 evolve and vaccination distribution plans roll out, we look towards a continued staggered return to campus. We will not only plan to restore those services that were either fully or partially closed during the pandemic, but also to consider continuing services created during the pandemic that have been successful.

At a Glance: Library COVID-19 Response Services & Usage

24,886 Paging & Pickup requests

  • 64% by graduate students
  • 12% by College students
  • 17% by faculty, academic appointees, and postdoctoral scholars

Between 6/15/2020 and 1/31/2021

12,037 Study seats reserved in Regenstein, Mansueto, and Crerar

  • 72% reserved by College students
  • 25% reserved by graduate students
  • 3% reserved by faculty, academic appointees, and postdoctoral scholars

Between 9/30/2020 and 1/31/2021

5,854 Scan & Deliver service requests

  • scans of articles and books chapters from the Library’s own collection

5,724 Interlibrary Loan requests

  • of physical items

4,536 requests for copies or scans

  • from other libraries

Between 9/27/2020 and 1/31/21

Over 40% of the Library’s print collection

  • has been made available online through the HathiTrust Emergency Temporary Access Service