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UIC Louis L. Biro Law Library Response to COVID-19

After moving to remote operations in March, one of our immediate concerns was providing a simulacrum of access to our most popular print collections, Academic Success, which consists of our study aids. We had been exploring providing access to the Lexis Nexis Digital Library and the Wolters Kluwer Online Study Aid Library (WKOSAL), so we started trial access to each. Since then, we’ve moved past trial access to provide ongoing access to the Lexis Digital Library, and we are finalizing ongoing access to the WKOSAL. Early on, we were also able to get electronic Bluebook keys for students that didn’t have a chance to retrieve their copies from campus before we shut down. More generally, we have since taken the opportunity to give our print collection a serious look and consider what we may discontinue in favor of digital access.

We reopened in a limited capacity in July. This is when circulation staff returned to campus with various precautions in place, including a large plastic screen at the circulation desk. Other health precautions are what you’d expect: seats and carrels are designated for socially-distanced seating, hand sanitizer stations are scattered about, and when materials are checked in, they’re set aside for a couple of days before being re-shelved. I’d like to take this opportunity to give a huge thanks to Catrina, James, John, Keesha, Harold, and Yvette for making the trek to campus and keeping things running in our physical space day in and day out.

Further regarding seating, we expanded the spaces available in LibCal to set up a reservation system for seats, spaces, and rooms throughout the library and other parts of the school. To avoid crowded elevators, different floors open at different times and reservations start at staggered intervals.

While moving reference operations online has presented its well-documented difficulties (most of our reference is conducted by email or chat), I’ve found that providing instruction to various classes and groups has been relatively simple. Screen-sharing has been a tremendous boon. I speak only for myself, of course, and I know I’m lucky to not have had an entire course to teach this semester. Dropping into the occasional first semester class to discuss research techniques has been a treat.

Communication with our users has been tough—people only have so much capacity to process email when they’re processing their upended lives. Still, we’ve decided the most consistent way to communicate with students about expanded or adjusted access to resources is by email. We created a LibGuide regarding remote access to resources and another about the digital study aids, but we haven’t counted on students on finding those on their own. We posted the information to our blog for the scenario when someone finds it by happenstance while they’re on the library homepage, but a handful of emails to the student body have gotten the most response. We have also alerted faculty to new resources and processes in hopes that not only will they use them, but that they will reinforce the information to their students as well.

It feels trite to comment on what a strange year it’s been, but it also feels disingenuous not to give it blunt acknowledgement. We’ve done our best to adjust to what a pandemic demands, and I think we’ve done a good job. While I’m not particularly interested in having to make hard pivots in how we provide our services on a regular basis, it’s good to know that we can adapt to difficult situations, and I’m glad to see that reflected throughout the profession.

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