At UZH, the Main Library and around 35 department libraries are the main sources of books and other research resources. In addition, the Zentralbibliothek, Zurich’s central public library, also plays a key role, particularly for arts and humanities students. For many students and researchers, the news about the libraries closing was a shock. But the libraries reacted quickly: Both the university libraries and the Zentralbibliothek have been able to maintain a minimum level of operations. They are putting a great deal of effort into supporting students and teaching staff.
Coordinating and convincing
The Main Library has expanded its electronic library services and introduced a scanning and book delivery service. The 35 UZH department libraries are offering the same service, coordinated centrally by the Main Library. The staff on-site are responsible for ensuring that users can get the books, scans of journal articles or other material they require, albeit a little later than usual due to postal times.
At first there were several logistical hurdles to overcome. Sending books by post means the books have to be suitably packed, courier and postal services have to be engaged, and employees need to be able to access the library buildings. And of course, the FOPH rules regarding on-site work must be observed at all times.
Cheaper delivery charges
The larger UZH library sites such as the Natural Sciences Library, Medizin Careum and the Law Library are currently sending out around 20 to 40 books and around 20 articles per day, while smaller department libraries are packaging up around five to 10 books a day. The department libraries also offer advice over the phone. “There are many questions about access to electronic resources, electronic media, fees and costs,” says Ladina Tschander of the Main Library team. What may be confusing for many university users is that in the library catalogue, the postal delivery charge is listed as 12 francs, but that is the cost for orders by external users – for members of UZH and the university’s hospitals, delivery is free.
The six million items on the shelves of the Zentralbibliothek are also available to borrow by post. Here though, there is a charge – but a very reasonable one in view of the work involved. Normal delivery charges at the Zentralbibliothek are 12 francs per item, but this has currently been reduced to 5 francs. In usual circumstances, the Zentralbibliothek sends out 50 books a day. “Now on some days it's more than 500,” says Christian Oesterheld, director of the Zentralbibliothek. With such high numbers they have reached their limit: It is not possible to have more employees working in the packing room due to the importance of keeping a safe distance between them. With this in mind, the nominal delivery charge is also intended as a slight deterrent, so that users order only books and media that they genuinely require at this time, and the library is not flooded with requests that would undermine the whole service.
The Zentralbibliothek has also been able to considerably expand its range of electronically available content through negotiations and discussions with service providers and publishers. Many contents are now freely available to the general public. The librarians are also receiving a high number of requests for advice and questions from readers: Around 50 to 80 phone calls per day and even more e-mails. The ZB librarians support users in ordering books, give information about further services during the closure, and help with access to electronic contents and scans. And last but not least, they reassure readers that they do not need to bring back the books they have already borrowed until after the library reopens, says Meret Stocker, team leader in ZB customer services.
Overall they have received many positive comments from students and researchers regarding the minimum operations, say Christian Oesterheld and Wilfried Lochbühler. The two directors are working particularly closely together during this time and they say the cooperation between the Zentralbibliothek and the UZH libraries is working well.
Getting the publishers on board
There are also changes to the electronic media services. In view of the extraordinary situation, the umbrella organization swissuniversities, the Swiss National Science Foundation and the consortium of Swiss university libraries have made an appeal to academic publishers to make their publications freely available in response to the global crisis.
A few publishers have already reacted and made some of their products publicly accessible. This includes literature of direct relevance to COVID-19 research, as well as selected general e-book packages, journals and other media. In total, 65 publishers have made content available, and the range is growing
Push towards digitalization with COVID-19
What long-term effect might the current crisis have on the university’s library services? “It will bring about a big expansion of digital services,” say both Oesterheld and Lochbühler. “We already have licenses for numerous journals, databases and e-books from all subject areas. The publishers will offer more and more such services in the future,” believes Wilfried Lochbühler. And Oesterheld predicts: “Open access services will be expanded, meaning more people around the world can access information without technical and financial restrictions. More contents will be directly available and more easily accessible than is currently the case.”
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