When the campus closed in March, staff at Penn Libraries rallied, working long hours to make services and collections virtually accessible.
“To give an idea of the extent of the change: we went from ordering a few dozen ebooks per month to ordering hundreds per week,” explains Jeanne Shuttleworth, director of acquisitions, access and licenses.
Since then, libraries have acquired approximately 75,000 new e-books, streaming videos and primary sources, and have gained temporary electronic access to nearly 1.3 million items in library collections.
In recent weeks, staff have mobilized again, this time to reconnect faculty and students with physical items from library collections that are currently not available in electronic form.
On July 7, with extensive security protocols in place, libraries created Pickup @ Penn, a service that allows members of the Penn community to request and collect books from the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center using their PennCards. Extended versions of libraries Books by mail and Faculty EXPRESS services launched the same day.
“I am relieved and delighted to now have access to physical books to improve my scholarship,” says Jenn henrichsen, doctoral student at the Annenberg School for Communication. “Books are like air for academics: we need them to breathe and think deeply about the future contours of our research. “
Books by Mail is available to current Penn students, staff, and faculty. After completing the online registration, eligible users can request that outstanding materials listed as “available” in the Franklin Libraries Catalog be shipped to their homes.
FacultyEXPRESS provides mail-in delivery of books and materials for all tenured tenured and tenured faculty at Penn, with a cap of five articles per day.
In addition, libraries continue to offer their digital delivery service, through which library staff can scan and deliver articles and book chapters from library collections to members of the Penn community.
Preparing for the launch of these services while ensuring the well-being of the staff was a huge challenge. “In light of the ongoing public health crisis, the primary consideration in initiating access to physical collections was the health and safety of our staff and customers,” says Jon shaw, associate vice-rector and assistant university librarian.
Library workflows have been revised accordingly. Staff now rotate days on site to minimize the total number of people in the building. Hand sanitizer bottles are installed throughout the library and staff have received full PPE kits. Each staff member was assigned to a single floor with a private office to avoid face-to-face meetings. And, in order to eliminate material cross-contact, each staff member was also assigned a personalized bookmobile.
“We are happy to work hard and serve customers again,” says Emilie Batista, Acting Director of Access Services. As the services unfold, Batista and his team will continually assess how best to meet user needs while ensuring the safety of staff and customers.
For example, the PickUp @ Penn procedure is put in place to minimize material cross-contact and ensure social distancing. Additionally, all material is quarantined – in accordance with the latest public health guidelines related to COVID-19 – before being made available to customers.
Since customers cannot currently photocopy articles and chapters on their own, the scanners have been moved from their central location and spaced throughout the building to maintain social distancing; staff are trained to respond to an expected influx of digitization requests for course reserves. Two rotating staff members monitor the traffic inbox to answer customer questions as quickly as possible.
And then there is the challenge of staggering arrears. Prior to the last week of June, only one person at a time from the Access Services team was allowed inside the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center to deal with the backlog of returned books, of which a few thousand had been returned since March.
“We wanted to record as many as possible before launch so they were ready to borrow,” says Batista. “We were never without things to do!”
“We also continued to develop our physical collections,” says Shaw. “We wanted to be able to provide our users with new materials when physical access was a possibility, so delays were inevitable. ”
Over the next few weeks, library staff will begin processing and cataloging these four months of new physical acquisitions. A rough calculation of the number of untreated books and serial volumes brings the total to over 34,000 articles.
“We will find smart workflows to speed up our processing to make the collections available as soon as possible,” says Shaw.
“It’s a difficult transition for us not to be able to automatically respond to customer requests,” says Batista. “Given the backlog, the need to quarantine materials between loans and the size of our small staff, we cannot guarantee the same quick turnaround time as before. “
Batista notes that members of the Penn community can check the latest status of loans and applications by logging into their Penn Libraries account.
Users have so far understood the operational limitations: staff members regularly receive messages of appreciation for the services libraries are able to provide. Batista also admires the dedication his colleagues have shown in supporting the educational mission of the University.
“The reason we’ve been able to offer these resources is our staff’s commitment to service,” she says. “No matter the challenge, no matter the circumstances, we find a way to serve our community. “
Story and images by Gretchen Stiteler, originally in News from Penn Libraries.