Managing your print and online collections in a COVID-19 world – an online event

In bringing together librarians to share their lockdown experiences and plans for the new academic year, this event was a useful opportunity for librarians to hear and learn from their peers. So it was not surprising with Jisc also delivering several sessions demonstrating the tools, support and guidance available now and into the future, that well over 200 people tuned in. The morning focused on the ways that libraries were managing their print and physical collections both during and post-lockdown and how Jisc could support requirements and changes happening. The afternoon concentrated on evaluating and managing existing online collections, including transitional agreements and reviewing usage of the content made available as a result of the pandemic.

Kicking off the morning session were two very different library perspectives. First up, Ruth Smalley, e-resources team leader at Edge Hill, walked us through their lockdown journey from an institution with a very strong campus identity and high dependence on the physical library, its print resources and the ease of accessing online content offered with a predominantly on-campus attendance. Martina McCrystal, Director of library services at the University of Glasgow, provided insights to their lockdown experiences, where online provision was already dominant. Glasgow took the lockdown opportunity to widen access to their special collections materials through the use of innovative technology.

Ruth and Martina received several questions highlighting the shared concerns of libraries around budget cuts and resource provision to the logistics of Click and Collect and reopening of library spaces. But it came through clear that the library’s value had shone through in this crisis. That was a positive amongst others highlighted by Patricia Rogers, Head of content procurement of library services at the University of Bristol in her afternoon session on ‘Evaluation and negotiation in a time of crisis’. When asked about whether the COVID crisis had been a line in the sand for the institution to stand behind the library when it came to content procurement, avoiding publishers selling direct to faculties for example, the answer was yes. Referencing popular music titles, Patricia proposed ‘the “crisis” cut is the deepest’ libraries will need to happen for subscription prices if libraries are to support an increase in blended learning for the year ahead. At Bristol, Patricia advocated strongly for data-driven evaluation and negotiation as two key elements to effectively manage their e-resources budget.

To support evaluation activities, Jisc delivered three sessions. The ‘What happens when the free content isn’t free anymore?’ session provided some useful insights and guidance from Amy Devenney, Senior research manager and from JUSP, Laura Wong, Library analytics services analyst, and Jo Lambert, JUSP & IRUS service manager. When reviewing usage statistics for the content made available during the pandemic, the session highlighted how usage patterns diverged across providers, looking from a national level. In ‘Evaluating your transitional agreements and beyond’ session, Amy along with Anna Vernon, Head of licensing, explained and demonstrated the methodologies that Jisc use to evaluate transitional agreements at the consortium level to ensure they constrain costs for institutions, while offering value for money but still meeting institutional needs. We also learned new concepts such as ‘APC cost avoidance’, ‘adjusted cost per download’ and ‘Investment per article’, which may well become common parlance before too long, especially IPA!

Other Jisc sessions showcased some of the tools available to support physical collections. Diana Massam, Library hub compare service manager highlighted the scale of the unreturned print books ranging from 3,000 to 12,000 books in some libraries. Demonstrating the Compare service, Diana showed how it could help decision making by indicating the rarity or not of these unreturned titles. Zoe Wolstenholme, an archivist at the University of Leeds showed how they used the Archives Hub cataloguing tool to increase their records’ discoverability via the Hub. A perfect opportunity that lockdown enabled. And the Hub’s service manager, Jane Stevenson showed us just how easy it is to add catalogue records, how robust the process is and how the user is guided through it.

Finally, and certainly not least, Jisc Licensing manager Caroline Mackay talked through the current e-textbook and e-book landscape with a focus on the latest Bibliu and Kortext negotiations. Jason Harper, Head of library digital strategies, research and engagement at the University of Plymouth and chair of Jisc’s e-textbooks strategy group provided  good oversight of the practical issues caused by lockdown in maintaining a library service and how a variety of initiatives helped ‘keep the ship afloat’. But what about the future? In laying out the vision for the year ahead, Plymouth’s plans chimed with the other library speakers in having to support a blended learning approach. Jason explained that several solutions would be needed to achieve this including investment in more scanning and flipping from print to e where possible and affordable through a range of different tactics. Jason also highlighted the need to support the range of student demographics and how important it was not to neglect these when planning for changes both physical and virtual. On a positive note, and similarly to our other library speakers, Jason pointed to the fact that the need for support for digital education has floated up to the agendas of VCs and at a national level, citing the recent UUK/Jisc content negotiation strategy group meeting which has precipitated the new e-textbook strategy for Kortext and Bibliu, for example.

What you take away from an event like this, hearing the perspectives directly from librarians is the innate ability of libraries and librarians to adapt to change but also to evolve. The speed of change precipitated by COVID-19 is new. Yet the ability of libraries to adapt has been proven through this crisis as has the desire to evolve. That COVID-19 was an unwelcome and forceful catalyst for change, there’s no doubt. But as a sector, libraries can be proud of both what they have done individually and what they have enabled to happen for their students and staff. As difficulties, problems and issues arise while the crisis continues, they should take comfort that any short-term pain experienced will be worth it if the change proves to be both positive and permanent.

Recordings and transcripts for most of the event’s sessions are available on the Event page. You can keep up to date with all the latest support and resources available by signing up to Headlines and visiting

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