UC Berkeley Library remains open virtually, ready to help students during pandemic

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A normal spring semester would have ended with UC Berkeley’s libraries full of students conducting last-minute research, looking through books and pulling all-nighters to study for exams and write last-minute papers, but this year, the libraries remained empty.

UC Berkeley’s libraries officially closed March 17, when Alameda County began its shelter-in-place order, which prevented gatherings in public spaces except for essential activities. Despite remote learning and limited access to the facilities, however, UC Berkeley’s library system continues to offer a multitude of resources online, which can be accessed from anywhere in the world, in response to the pandemic.

“Across campus and throughout much of the world, the lives and routines of individuals have changed significantly,” said Salwa Ismail, associate university librarian for digital initiatives and information technology, in an email. “What has not changed, however, is our commitment to service and helping those who need it.”

The library has delayed deadlines for returning physical books and resources until August 31 and is offering remote access to librarians 24/7 through an online forum.

It has also kept its online purchase request form open, allowing campus community members to request new resources, books and materials for the library to buy.

“Things are different, and we’re learning new ways of interacting with and being there for our students and the Berkeley community,” Ismail said in the email. “We want to let Berkeley students, faculty, and staff — and our extended community of researchers and scholars worldwide — know that we’re here for you.”

In an effort started before the pandemic, the library is digitizing many of its materials, with a goal of making approximately 200 million items from special collections available online. More than 1.5 million photographs were uploaded last year alone, according to Ismail.

While the goal was set before the pandemic and digitizing started about three years ago, Ismail said the efforts have served the library well during the pandemic and called it a “positive sign” of the investments the library has made for future benefits.

“We’re a public university — our mission is to serve the research and access needs of Californians and our extended scholarly community,” Ismail said in the email. “At the heart of this is freeing our treasures from the shelves that they sit on — moving them from boxes to bytes, from shelves to screens — so they’re available to researchers around the world in digital form.”

UC Berkeley Library has also partnered with HathiTrust, an effort co-founded by libraries across the UC system in 2008 to increase the digital archive. According to Ismail, with the onset of the pandemic, HathiTrust initiated an Emergency Temporary Access Service, which includes millions of digitally accessible volumes. UC Berkeley has been contributing to HathiTrust with its own reserves.

Additionally, HathiTrust offers a service for individuals with disabilities to request online copies of copyrighted materials when print poses challenges.

“Partnerships with organizations such as HathiTrust provide access to collections that are the outcome of many years of the Library’s investment in digitization and curation, and provide not only broad access, but also digital preservation of Library resources for the long term,” Ismail said in the email.

Kate Finman is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.