ILL and Stacks are still operational during the pandemic

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Jenny Vitti.

As head of the Interlibrary Loan (ILL), Course Reserves, Stacks and Science Commons teams, I am excited about the support these teams have been able to provide to library users during the coronavirus pandemic, despite a myriad of challenges with collection access and almost no onsite staffing.

Under normal circumstances, ILL is responsible for borrowing materials needed by Emory researchers (students, faculty, and staff) for their research or coursework that are not available in Emory Libraries’ physical or electronic collections. On the lending side, ILL also responds to requests from other libraries whose users need access to materials that are held by our library.

Unfortunately, with worldwide closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, providing access to library materials has become much more challenging for libraries at Emory and around the world. Jenny Vitti, Woodruff Library’s ILL Borrowing Coordinator, now reports spending about 75% of her time dealing with COVID-19-related issues that impact Emory researchers’ access, not only to items that we normally could obtain via ILL, but also to physical items held right here, in Emory’s libraries. Jenny and others in Access Services and Collection Management have spent hours in virtual meetings, developing temporary processes to fulfill Emory researchers’ requests for new and existing library materials. Even with well-documented workarounds for dealing with pandemic-related challenges to information access, each request must be handled on a case-by-case basis. The process often requires consultations (yes, plural) with the researcher and/or other library staff before a satisfactory solution is found to meet the specific need.

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Neal D’Cruze.

For Jenny to be able to spend so much time on COVID-related complications with ILL and other forms of mediated request processing, other members of the ILL team, Ray Lewis and Neil D’Cruze, have stepped up to handle more of the borrowing work she would normally be doing. Fortunately, both Ray and Neil are substantially cross-trained and can shift gears very quickly when crises come along. Their increased focus on ILL borrowing has in turn left most of the ILL lending work to Kathy Britt-Rogers, our ILL Lending Coordinator. Thus far, this shift has been manageable because, without access to the libraries’ physical collections, we can only fill lending requests using electronic resources when licenses allow.

On the Stacks front, Michael Robertson, our newest team member, was the first additional library staff member to join Marty Ike and Kim Copenhaver in returning to work onsite at the Woodruff Library. Michael has been able to take on much of the pulling and some scanning being done for Emory researchers. He’s also been able to make a small dent in re-shelving the deluge of library materials that were returned when undergrads cleared out their dorms and grad students & faculty cleared out their library carrels and studies before leaving campus. Michael has been a lifesaver, checking in over 200 shelves-worth (600+ linear feet) of returned items, and, until this past Wednesday, was doing so single-handily. As of today, he has both Melanie Bunn and Patrick Buckley back onsite to help tackle this monumental chore.

Needless to say, we are extremely grateful that both Jenny and Michael had joined our team in 2019, before these trying times began. Their previous Emory library experience and passionate dedication to customer service enabled them to step up and do amazing things.

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Kim Copenhaver.

Before Michael returned to working onsite, Kim Copenhaver was doing all the legwork for the “Library-to-Go” no-contact pickups for library users. In addition to being thankful for Michael’s contributions to that process, Kim is also thrilled with the remote work that ILL and other teams have been doing in response to COVID-19. “They have been an integral part of the mediated request process and have gone the extra mile to support access and ensure the integrity of the research process for Emory community members,” said Kim.

Indeed, these efforts are part of a larger mediated request process that also includes subject librarians and others involved in licensing new e-resources and purchasing new (and duplicate) physical items needed by Emory library users. This cross-divisional group often finds an existing or new electronic resource to provide to the requester. However, if there is no electronic version reasonably available for an item in our physical collection, the user’s request goes to Kim Copenhaver, who queues up the item to be pulled from our stacks and made available for Library-to-Go pickup in the entrance vestibule of the Woodruff Library. Alternatively, if the researcher is no longer in the Atlanta area, we also ship requested items directly to remote users. Jenny, Michael and Kim work with Marty Ike and/or online booksellers to ship items to users, as needed. We have purchased more than 80 items and shipped them directly to library users. When more library staff (and the items) return to the library, these items will need to be identified, marked and added to our collections. Katie Stein has also been doing ALMA work to make sure that order records will exist by the time everyone comes back.

As library users’ needs and expectations for library services understandably increase, and with more library staff returning to work on-site (starting this week), we are exploring more sustainable and scalable processes for meeting researchers’ information needs and tracking any unmarked and/or uncatalogued items that result.

Says Jenny, “I have enjoyed working with the whole [library] team to get resources available to our researchers regardless of what stage they are in the process. It’s been really gratifying. People continue to be surprised that we are willing to ship things to them and they are grateful.”

Feedback from our users has been extremely positive. Said one happy patron, “I appreciate the work you and your colleagues have done to maintain research access during these times.” Added another, “I so appreciate your care and attention. ILL has been a lifeline for me during these strange times.”

Considering the constraints of having extremely limited staff on site and little collection access, I am very proud of the ways in which the ILL and Stacks teams–and the library as a whole–have managed to meet users’ needs in this time of crisis. I am very grateful to be part of a library that is willing and able to do “whatever it takes” to make resources available to our users. Also, during this pandemic, the value of consortia like the OCLC Research Library Partnership SHARES program has become abundantly clear. All of our libraries are dealing with the same challenges and being able to share information and experiences with key resource sharing partners has been tremendous. Again, I am thankful to be a part of this community and, in particular, for the way our whole library has come together to handle the COVID-19 crisis. Thanks to you all!

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