UWM Libraries Rise to the COVID-19 Challenge and Look Ahead

photo of libraryAs UWM closed its buildings in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the campus pivoted from a mostly face-to-face delivery of classes to one that was entirely virtual.

The Libraries pivoted, as well, with all three locations moving services and resources online both to support their mission and prioritize safety. They foregrounded their already extensive access to online resources and added newly available databases; transformed reference and instruction services into wholly digital offerings; scanned portions of books from the Golda Meir Library and emailed them to student and faculty researchers; and emphasized digital over physical access to the rare and unique holdings of the American Geographical Society Library, Archives, and Special Collections.

The Libraries are frequently appreciated as the heart of UWM. “That’s for a good reason,” says Associate Vice Provost and Director of Libraries Michael Doylen. “During this public health crisis, we’ve been able to demonstrate that the Libraries continue to provide vital services and resources effectively, even when our buildings are closed.”

In terms of resources, the Libraries were well-positioned for an online transition, with access to more than 870,000 e-books and 158,000 e-serials before the closure. As libraries shut down all over the world, some e-publishers lowered their paywalls and the UWM Libraries were able temporarily to add extra databases, increasing e-resource availability.

Interlibrary loan continued as before with the delivery of scanned journal articles and chapters to researchers worldwide, although the lending of actual books was substantially reduced.

In compliance with social distancing rules, physical books could neither be checked out to nor consulted by UWM students or faculty. Circulation staff stepped up by scanning portions of books and e-mailing them directly to users.

All User Services course-integrated library instruction moved fully online. In a few cases, librarians were embedded as guest instructors in the Canvas course, thereby enhancing their support of students. Staff who previously worked at onsite service counters easily moved to already well-established email and chat communications.

Likewise, the American Geographical Society Library, Archives, and Special Collections increased their own online reference and research consultation activity, answering questions about collections that could no longer be consulted by researchers in person. Their work was supported by a vast array of digitized content from these library departments, and librarians began preparing video tutorials to provide context for these unique holdings.

In addition to efforts mentioned above, the Libraries—as did all units and departments on campus—altered, rethought, and refashioned a multitude of processes in an exceptionally short time span to safely continue their support of UWM’s mission.

As UWM enters a fully online summer semester, the Libraries will continue to be there for their students and faculty. They plan to expand access to physical collections, improve online delivery of course-related instruction, and be fully present for our students during this extremely challenging and stressful time in their academic careers.

UWM continues to plan and prepare for the fall semester and beyond. Much remains unknown at this time. Will classes be offered face-to-face? Or will there be a predominately or exclusively online semester? The Libraries are actively planning and preparing for all of these scenarios, guided by a strong sense of purpose and their guiding values. “As we move forward,” says Doylen, “the safety of the UWM community will be at the forefront of all of our planning.”

Visit the Libraries’ COVID-19 page for current information about services and resources.