As with so many, my working day has changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. With the library buildings temporarily closed, instead of sitting in an office with colleagues on a busy campus, I am alone in my study, looking out over a farmer’s field and preparing to conduct an undergraduate tutorial by Skype. Later, I will answer a lecturer’s query about online access to a key text, and then continue collating academic skills material for an Open Access site for prospective HE students without access to traditional resources at this time.
Considering how library services at Leeds Beckett University have adapted in general, the salient point is the service-wide nature of the response (as discussed by a colleague in relation to copyright here). Of course there has been additional demand for VLE support, and work to expand the range of online resources and to prepare for socially-distanced reopening of university spaces. But during the period of adaptation, the enquiry service has also been essential, as has skills and disability support, and academic librarianship – aiding students and academic colleagues through a changing information landscape.
From the perspective of an Academic Librarian, I am reminded of a previous piece I wrote for this blog, on the challenges of access to online readings, which explored how academics and students can work more effectively if they understand why the HE information landscape looks the way it does, as well as how to operate within it. The point remains valid, particularly given the potential personal, educational and professional impacts of rapid change, and the capacity for existing societal inequalities to be exacerbated. So, while practicalities may have changed, the nature of the Academic Librarian’s role has not: a key aspect remains tuition in how to access and utilise information. Plus ça change…
It is in this context that the CLA comes in, alongside other options for increased flexibility. Rachel Thornton, Leeds Beckett’s Copyright Clearance Officer, comments: “Since 2016, the Library has facilitated access to digitised readings created under the CLA licence via the CLA’s Digital Content Store (DCS). This placed us in a strong position when the physical Library had to close, as many modules already had content available online. The CLA have negotiated a relaxation of some of the terms of their licence during this difficult period. Although these have the potential to be useful, unfortunately due to limitations imposed by the rights holders we have been unable to take any real advantage.” For example, the extended license can be used when an eBook is not commercially available in some form, but not all forms are suitable for our use. However, we continue to monitor the changing situation for possibilities, particularly in relation to JISC’s work towards broader institutional eBook access.
Even when its initial benefits are localised, the tangential impact of such work should also be remembered. Members of the Leeds Beckett community have observed that even when they did not need a particular Library service at present, receiving details of its revised operations from their Academic Librarian and others was uplifting, a sign of university life adapting and continuing. Looking forward from the human tragedies and disruption caused by the pandemic, such comments are one cause for optimism. So many of the relationships, systems and skills required to deal with coming challenges are already in place. Their evolution might now be very different, with further changes required, but as with information-seeking, knowledge of why the landscape looks the way it does can help us on our way.
About the Author
Laurence Morris is an Academic Librarian of Leeds Beckett University and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, writing here in a personal rather than institutional capacity. Additional comments were provided by Rachel Thornton, Copyright Clearance Officer at Leeds Beckett Library.