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Higher Education #LibrariesAreEssential to Scotland’s Students

Category: #LibrariesAreEssential, Blog, Librarians During Lockdown

by Dr Elizabeth Andrews, User Experience and Communications Manager, University Libraries & Museums, University of St Andrews

Thank you very much for your help and support during this difficult time’* – how academic libraries are essential for students 

*All quotes are comments from the recent Library Satisfaction Survey run by University of St Andrews Library, November-December 2020.

Students observing two-meter social distancing and wearing face coverings in Martyrs Kirk Postgraduate Reading Room. All photographs by Gayle E McIntyre, University of St Andrews. 

Libraries have risen to the difficult challenge of developing a remote service and introducing new ways for students to access physical collections and spaces safely. Although these new ways of working may seem far removed from pre-pandemic times, the goal has remained the same: meet the needs of students, support learning and research, and be there when they need us.  

‘People seem to have bent over backwards to ensure that study is not impaired by the Covid crisis’

Before the pandemic hit, many academic libraries, including the University of St Andrews Library, had established services and spaces through consultation with students, understanding not only what they needed but what they preferred, and what would improve the quality of their experience at University. The pandemic has since reframed our priorities, and with social distancing and a stay at home mandate, we have had to find new ways to support and engage our campus community. The pandemic has raised the profile of the academic library, highlighted that access to resources is critical and shown how study space is something students feel passionate about.     

‘I have always found the library and its services excellent. The current pandemic has shown more of its strengths.’  

Collections taped off because browsing is not possible.

Through creativity and a lot of hard work from staff across the Library and the University, we have created new services such as click and collect, scan and deliver, online teaching and support, and even 3D object visualisation. There is great demand for these new services and feedback from users is consistently positive. Our recent survey scored satisfaction at 85%. 

I am unbelievably impressed by the service provided by the library. Well done and keep up the excellent work!’

The need for study space continues and students tell us that dual delivery has meant that they need more space more often 

I find I want to study in the library more than when I was attending lectures’

We have adapted spaces so that we can safely accommodate students who do not have what they need at home or in their accommodation 

‘Thank you for making it possible to use the library as a study space! I don’t know what I would do without it.’ 

Students at their assigned bookable study spaces in the Main Library.

It is likely that some of the services introduced during this time, in particular scanning and study seat booking, will become part of the standard offering. But there is also a strong sense that although these may remain, they will not replace the ability to browse the shelves, talk to staff and enjoy the Library buildingsThere may have been a fear that once students stopped coming to the Library and the services changed, we would struggle to get them back, but feedback tells us that this is unlikely. Students miss the Library too much. 

‘I would kill to be able to sit upstairs/ look at the books in person.’

Students have adapted well to the different means of accessing resources. We are confident that most key readings are available online and access to required physical collections is available through scanning or click and collect.

‘It has great resources for a student like me.’

The recent challenges have shown how essential the academic library is for students and how much it is at the heart of the student experienceIt provides the material for study and in study space, a lifeline for those who need somewhere they can go. But perhaps the most elusive and most important way it is essential is how it anchors the shared experience of thousands of individuals even when they can’t be inhabiting the same space, knowing the same staff or reading the same books. This makes the access we provide to services and buildings, and the contact we make with students, more significant than ever 

‘I just love this place’

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