Even though our buildings have been closed since March 18, 2020, in response to the health threat of COVID-19, we have remained open. Our librarians and staff, working from home, have been supporting the students, faculty, and staff of the U community, as well as the public, with electronic resources, online reference, and more.
In mid-May, the Libraries’ leadership team stepped back to reflect on what we had accomplished and, looking forward, our readiness to move back to campus. Our reflections, outlined in the document below, have been shared with the U of M Provost, and we expect it also to inform our University Regents.
As they have for centuries, libraries fill a unique role
Our U of M Libraries provide vital information, access, and services through our collections and our expert staff. Today, as they have for centuries, libraries fill a unique role in society by curating collections, fueling research discovery, teaching information literacy skills, and preserving the record of our civilization.
Even while responding to the coronavirus, our Libraries’ collections and staff have been valuable, flexible, and always available virtually to the U of M community and beyond.
Our collections, whether physical or electronic, are enormous assets. We showed foresight more than 20 years ago in striving to make our collections available online to the U of M community and a wider audience — including those around the region who depend on our Minitex division to deliver materials. About 85% of our acquisitions are now electronic and available online. Minitex led the effort to develop EbooksMN, through which anyone in Minnesota has access to more than 10,000 titles.
HathiTrust and a decade of investment in digitization
We also have for a decade invested Libraries staff time in locating, ensuring accurate cataloging, and shipping our print materials to scan for the Google Books project. The digitized materials were then deposited in the HathiTrust repository. Before COVID-19, only items in the public domain were available in full-view format but — to serve the institutions that had contributed to it — HathiTrust opened emergency online access to in-copyright titles held in print format on campuses. For the U of M community, that amounts to half our collection, or about 3.5 million titles.
We also hold unique and rich Archives and Special Collections, some of which have been digitized and available online. Yet even when researchers can access materials online, they also find value in seeing the originals in person, according to our archivists and curators.
Expert staff and subject-specialist librarians
Those archivists and curators are members of another incredible asset at the U of M — our Libraries staff. We were pioneers among academic libraries to establish subject-specialist librarians who provide expert assistance to faculty, students, and staff. Librarians are also embedded into the classroom through their own courses, workshops, and teaching partnerships with faculty.
In addition, our U community benefits from specialized librarians like our Copyright Program Librarian, who responded to the flip to online instruction this spring with a special copyright guide for instructors. Ultimately, that guide was distributed nationally. We have an affordable content team working with faculty to identify alternatives to expensive textbooks — saving students money — while providing course content of similar or better quality. Another specialty is data curation, in which librarians preserve and make accessible such materials as the research data produced here at the U of M, or the data offered in a published work.
We are prepared for any scenario
During the last two months, in an entirely online environment, our Libraries’ staff have been able to meet users’ needs, many of which have increased, and also offer robust access to the majority of our collections. Under any scenario, we expect they will continue to do so.