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HSL Newsletter

This is the LibGuide version of the Library's quarterly newsletter, "Corpus Callosum".

Collections and Services Department Ensures Access during Pandemic

Abbey Heflin is the Head of Collections Management

This article was written by Abbey Heflin, and edited by Kimberley R. Barker.

Like everyone at the University of Virginia, the Collections and Library Services Department has been heavily focused on responding to institutional changes caused by the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. On March 18, the Library moved into Tier Four of the Library Operational Plan in response to the University’s physical closure. This meant that all but our 24 Hours space were physically closed, and team members began working remotely. With the help of our Information Technology Department, team members without the technology necessary for remote work were provided with the equipment that made it both possible and successful.

With so many members of the UVA Health community suddenly working and learning remotely (and with most Library spaces closed and all of its staff working remotely) the public-facing services provided by the Service Desk Team became an even more important aspect of Library communications. In order to remain accessible to patrons, the team decided to implement a chat feature on our website. By March 20th, the Service Desk, working with the Library’s Information Technology department, had tested and deployed a robust version of our chat service that would be necessary for the increased traffic that would undoubtedly follow the University’s closure. The chat system includes both a public queue for patron questions (staffed by the Service Desk), and Library staff-only queues for internal communication, including receiving chat transfers from the Service Desk for patrons needing specific services.

During Tier Four, in addition to monitoring chat, the Service Desk staff also worked on several projects for the Historical Collections Department, including video transcription, the COVID-19 web archiving project, and on an online exhibit about the history of UVA Health.

Two months later, on May 17th, the Library moved into Tier Three of Library operations, which meant the return of in-person Service Desk staff. Due to staffing constraints, however, coverage of both the Desk and chat were reduced to the hours of 8:00 AM- 5:00 PM, Monday- Friday. Desk team members worked a rotating shift (half of the day in the Library, the other half of the day at home) to both ensure coverage of the Desk and chat and also to minimize exposure of team members. Further measures were taken in order to mitigate risk for staff and patrons, including:

  • the door to the 24 Hours space continued to be the Library’s only entry point; the front doors remained closed.
  • All onsite staff were provided with proper PPE, and Plexiglas barriers were placed around the Service Desk.
  • Using a formula that included the Library’s square footage and social distancing guidelines from the CDC, some chairs and tables were moved to storage which helped to ensure that the Library didn’t exceed its maximum capacity.
  • The Desk staff introduced contactless pick-up, as access to the Library’s physical collection is now limited to Service Desk staff (as opposed to the pre-Pandemic model in which patrons could access the collection themselves). Once the requested book has been retrieved by the Service Desk, it is checked out to the requesting patron, and placed on a shelf far away from the Desk where patrons pick it up. Returned items are quarantined based on CDC guidance.

Interlibrary Loan: After the Library’s physical closure in Tier Four, getting our two Interlibrary Loan specialists up and running from home was a priority. While they have been able to fill the majority of requests, they have been unable to lend physical items to other libraries (both UVA and non-UVA). Nationally, ILL lending has simply not been considered wise as we’re still learning about novel coronavirus transmission. Fortunately, there has been little interruption to Interlibrary Loan overall, as we have been able to process all requests for digital items.

Collections: The University’s closure and subsequent removal of students and employees off Grounds created several access issues, one of which was their inability to reverify their access rights to subscriptions through a UVA IP address (which is granted by physically being on Grounds). I immediately began working to get publishers to lift the reverification restrictions for at least the Summer, as no one was allowed on Grounds and not everyone had VPN, rendering the reverification process impossible. Thankfully, we were able to come to an agreement. This issue provided an opportunity for our Liaison Librarians to educate patrons on the value of having VPN.

Another important aspect of the Collections team’s work was working on behalf of faculty members to get access to digital versions of the books that they needed for their newly- online classes. If the e-version of the requested text was not available, we worked with them to find comparable options with the greatest number of user access licenses. It was a whirlwind, but ultimately successful. We also helped faculty understand how to use our ebook collections to find books, download chapters, and familiarized them with copyright concerns so that they were able to integrate ebooks into the online learning management system.

Many institutions are feeling the financial impact of the pandemic, and the Library is no exception: FY 21 will likely bring cuts to our collections budget, and I, along with the rest of the collections team, are working tirelessly to analyze the data and statistics to make the best choices about what resources we maintain and what will have to be acquired through Interlibrary Loan. I also have regular Zoom meetings with the publishers from whom we purchase resources; just like libraries, they are trying to navigate this very messy situation and I believe that regular communication is the key to successful outcomes for all.

Looking to the future, the collections team, along with other library stakeholders, will develop and promote Open Access and Open Education Resources. While my work in this area didn’t begin with the pandemic, it is certainly proving to be serendipitous during this time. Specifically, I’m trying to determine the best way to a) approach educating both colleagues and patrons on this issue, and b) make Open Access resources discoverable- including how to incorporate preprints. I’m also working to promote Open Access publishing, including publishing in Libra, UVA’s institutional repository. As inevitable cuts are made to all academic budgets, promoting sustainable scholarship will be an important aspect of the Library’s service to UVA Health.

If you have questions about the Library’s collections, or any of my other work, please feel free to get in touch via the Ask Us form, or via email:

Claude Moore Health Sciences Library
1350 Jefferson Park Avenue P.O. Box 800722
Charlottesville, VA 22908 (Directions)

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