The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday October 23rd

University Libraries adapts to pandemic to meet student needs

Wilson Library overlooks Polk Place on March 1, 2021.
Buy Photos Wilson Library overlooks Polk Place on March 1, 2021.

So, you need a book for class. You might head to Davis Library, talk with a librarian or researcher, check out a book and hunker down at a desk to cram out your paper. 

But in a year of remote instruction, library research looks different. 

In the face of COVID-19 and a year of majority online learning, University Libraries has implemented several programs to make sure students have access to the resources they need. 

Joe Williams, director of public services for University Libraries, said students should know, regardless of their location, that they have a plethora of options to attain library resources. 

“No matter how or where students are studying now, they have continued access to the library, whether that be safe in-person interactions, online consultations, ebooks and other electronic resources, and contact lists — including mail-to-home,” Williams said. 

In addition to allowing book pickup at the service desks, the library has also implemented curbside pickup. Students can opt for curbside pickup online and a library staff member will bring the book outside to their car.

Another program is the digitalization of content. When possible, the library will attempt to deliver content digitally for users upon request, Williams said. This option is ideal for students in Carolina Away or those who would like to eliminate any contact at all. 

Jason Tomberlin, head of research and instructional services at the Wilson Special Collections Library, said Wilson Library has two knowledge imaging center scanners working nine-to-five almost every day. The scanners allow students and faculty members to digitally archive physical books and articles. 

“We have been able to answer most questions that way for free and that is one of the most outstanding things,” he said. 

The mail-in option is another tool for students who are not residing on campus. Students have to opt for the “delivery by mail” option when choosing how to pick up and shipping fees are covered by the library. 

“Among the different contactless delivery services we have in place, that includes mailing resources to students," Williams said. "We do provide delivery through the postal service along with paid return shipping. So if for some reason we can’t get resources to you digitally we’ll do it physically."

According to University Libraries, Wilson Library’s “digital first” scanning program has made 189,676 scans from the beginning of the program through Feb. 26. Combined, the in-person and curbside pickup programs have delivered 36,238 items to library users since the service began in the summer. 

Vice Provost for University Libraries Elaine Westbrooks said University Libraries has shown a commitment to creating a safe system for students to continue to reap the benefits of a UNC education no matter what the situation may be. She feels like this is the library’s mission. 

“We have done nothing but adapt everything we do for our community and that is our mission, we want access, we want people to use what we have," Westbrooks said. "We want to be a value that is relevant to our students, faculty, staff as well as the citizens of the state, and we always adapted."

Tomberlin said that there was already a robust library and archives digitization program in place before the pandemic — and with the onset of COVID-19, the need for these programs greatly increased. 

Decisions on whether the rest of these programs will stay permanently will take time. But for now, University Libraries is staying focused on meeting students' needs while the pandemic continues.

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