COVID-19 and the digital shift in action

COVID-19 Digital libraries Research libraries United Kingdom

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought rapid and profound changes to the work of research libraries. As the threat from COVID-19 increased across March 2020, services were rapidly realigned as library buildings were physically closed. As a result of closure, this period saw the transition to online-only provision of research library services, operations, access to collections, and audience engagement, at an unprecedented speed. This period therefore provides a unique opportunity to explore the experiences of RLUK members around the digital shift during a period of extraordinary and rapid service realignment.

This report explores how RLUK member libraries prepared for the closure of their physical libraries, their experiences of working remotely, and what plans they are putting in place to enable their recovery. It does so through the lens of the digital shift occurring in research library services, operations, and collections. It touches on issues of staffing, decision making and contingency planning, and the perception of the library within the institution. It also uses the experience of RLUK members to examine the adaptability of the UK’s digital infrastructure, particularly around collections, and considers the extent to which the COVID-19 crisis might bring lasting change in how research libraries operate, both in terms of the digital shift and more widely.

The report is the result of an extensive period of research between April and June 2020 which included in depth interviews with 17 RLUK members and the results of two quantitative surveys of the wider research library community (which cumulatively received almost 400 responses). It provides an account of member experiences during a period of profound change and enables a degree of benchmarking between research libraries. It also places the contents of RLUK’s digital shift manifesto within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and how the manifesto’s contents can support research libraries navigate their ‘new normal’.

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