The University Libraries instituted a new delivery-by-mail service, making physical books and materials accessible during this remote semester to any active UNC student or faculty member living in the continental U.S.
Joe Williams, the director of public services for UNC Libraries, said that since the University’s initial move to virtual learning last spring, the libraries have received many requests to institute an adjusted system of material delivery that would accommodate individuals who are off campus.
“We have in the past provided this service for students who were distance ed, which in the past only included a small percentage of our students,” Williams said. “But this semester, just about everybody is distance ed.”
The delivery-by-mail feature is now available on the request forms of materials that are typically in circulation. After an order comes in, Williams said it takes two to three days for the University Libraries to retrieve and process the item.
Then, through the U.S. Postal Service, the item is sent out. The overall delivery time is dependent on a student or faculty member’s location.
“It functions no differently than any other borrowing system,” Williams said. “The items are made to your account until you return them. So far, we haven’t had any problems with people not returning them.”
Williams said return labels with pre-paid postage are included in every box in order to ensure that the University Libraries remain a free service for students and faculty.
“Our main desire in all of this is just to serve students and faculty,” Williams said. “We know what a challenging time this is, and many people either don’t want to be out and about or they actually cannot be, so we are just trying to serve folks as best we can.”
In addition to those with UNC One Cards, the delivery-by-mail system is also available to community members with UNC borrower’s cards, provided that they live within 50 miles of campus.
Media and equipment, as well as anything obtained through interlibrary loans, are ineligible for delivery.
Interim Head for Interlibrary Loans Renée Bosman said that while the UNC University Libraries are continuing to borrow materials from other universities, the process has become more complicated due to COVID-19.
“We are at the mercy of other libraries’ operational statuses,” Bosman said. “So if only a handful of libraries in the country own the materials that we are looking for and they don’t happen to have enough staff on site, we can’t borrow it.”
Though materials from interlibrary loans are unavailable for delivery, Bosman said students are still able to physically pick up anything that can be borrowed directly from either Davis Library or the Health Sciences Library through contactless pickup.
Sophomore Julia Aminzadeh, a media and journalism major, said she has used UNC Libraries’ virtual resources through the online catalog for various projects this fall.
Aminzadeh said she appreciates the effort the University Libraries have put into creating this new service. But she also said as an out-of state-student who is living back home in Maryland, she is concerned about the amount of time it would take for a mailed resource to arrive.
“If the book is online and I need to get an assignment done quickly, then I don’t think that I would use it because the online versions are readily available,” Aminzadeh said. “I’d be open to using it, but I think that for now I am just going to stick with the online versions while I’m remote.”
As of now, Bosman said the delivery-by-mail service is only set to run throughout the rest of the fall semester. In December, the UNC Libraries’ staff will re-examine, and the program will continue into the spring if necessary.
“It is certainly going to be a lot of extra work for library staff, and I’m really pleased to see that staff from all different departments in the libraries are volunteering for shifts and are doing tasks that they don’t normally do to get these services off of the ground,” Bosman said. “But it feels really good to be able to offer some of our materials to students who can’t come to campus.”
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