As those working in academic libraries and higher education institutions consider how to reopen their campuses later this summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about what work will look like post-COVID-19. We don’t know when that “after” will begin. Once we’re back on campus? After a potential resurgence of the virus? Or once there’s a vaccine? These unknowns make it difficult to lead and facilitate planning. Regardless of when the “after” begins, our expectations as employees and humans certainly seems to have shifted. As a leader, it behooves me to consider how those shifts will impact my faculty/staff, our patrons, and myself. This is the second post in a two-part series. The first post explored how our expectations as employees may shift.
Thinking specifically about the impact of COVID-19 on the work of special collections departments, there are several key areas to consider.
- Asserting the value of library instruction when classes are online: Given the short timeframe in which they transitioned their classes to online delivery, most teaching faculty didn’t seek us out to continue our work together. In the short-term that might be ok, but in the long-term, special collections, and the libraries more generally, need to ensure that the content and value they bring to the curriculum can be offered in an online platform. Planning for future semesters and considering new service models to enable more digitization to increase the flexibility of our instruction pedagogy will be critical.
- Changing face of scholarly communications: Researchers’ expectation for immediate access to information is only going to grow. As various publishers and aggregators changed access and use policies in spring 2020, we saw what the landscape could look like. In special collections this shift behooves us to consider how we license our digital content and how we could assist with providing access to historical data sets related to current research.
- Making the reading room a virtual space: So much of a special collections operation takes place in person. It’ll be important to pivot to alternative service models to continue to provide expert service, as we’re able to return to working onsite. We should be considering how we integrate the digital tools we’ve come to rely on, in a hybrid approach to service. Virtual consultations, increased maximums for duplication requests, revisiting our fee structure, promoting a local researcher proxies are a few strategies in this hybrid model.
- Developing value added initiatives: The crisis led many archives to launch community archiving and oral history projects to document the virus’s impact on society. How can we make projects like these part of our overall collection development and outreach strategy?
- Future of collection development: We stopped accepting donations in March 2020 and don’t know when we’ll resume adding physical materials to our collections. How would a shift to accepting donations only by mail impact the kinds of collections we’re likely to receive? If we shared shipping costs, how would that impact our budget? If we pivot to a born-digital collecting focus, how do we develop the infrastructure to best steward those materials? Any holistic collection development strategy post-COVID-19 is likely to include a combination of these approaches as we slowly scale back up to the typical rate and quantity of new acquisitions we brought in before the virus hit.
How do you anticipate that your work will change?