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How ASU libraries have pivoted operations during COVID-19

Libraries at ASU have expanded online services in order to help students access resources in the pandemic

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The entrance to the Hayden Library basement is pictured on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Tempe, Arizona.

The ASU Library has pivoted operations to focus on alternatives to in-person resources for students during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Ask a Librarian service, curbside book pickup and the laptop and hotspot checkout program.

After University President Michael Crow announced ASU’s decision to go completely online in March 2020, the library immediately had to shift operations in order to follow ASU’s new COVID-19 guidelines and expand its online services to students no matter where they were located.

Britt Lewis, communications specialist for the ASU Library, said many services were still available and were never truly "shut down."

“When ASU made the switch to online-only instruction last spring, the library made many service adjustments in order for students and faculty to get the necessary support and resources," Lewis wrote in an email. "For example, we extended the hours of our online chat service and found ways to safely provide a daily ‘curbside pickup’ of physical library materials for students, faculty and staff at Hayden Library."

Students can still visit any library across different campuses, but guidelines are in place to prevent spread of COVID-19. These include physical distancing, limited group study rooms, masks required and no eating or drinking.

Jennifer Duvernay, an associate University librarian for communications and donor relations, said online library resources have always existed for students but their use has increased during the pandemic.

“The library is never really closed,” Duvernay said. “We’re open online 24 hours a day, and we also collaborated with the University Technology Office to help distribute laptops and hotspot devices to students."

Both Lewis and Duvernay said extending the hours of the library's Ask a Librarian service, an online chat function for students who have questions while working at home, was important when adjusting to the pandemic.

Christina Peck, communications and outreach program coordinator for the ASU Library, also works on the chat lines for Ask a Librarian.

Peck said while the service has always existed, the number of students using the service increased during the pandemic, especially in the evenings.

“Even before the pandemic, our chat line was being accessed from 150 countries across the world,” Peck said. “Usually they would get help on campus, but there was an uptick in students who were brand new, either transfers or freshmen, who were just lost in the system. That is why we felt it was important to extend our online chat hours and help students who may have questions."

Duvernay said while resources are still available both online and in-person for students, she was disheartened to see how few people were in the group study and workspaces, which were specifically designed to promote student collaboration.

"It's not that you can't have a community online," Duvernay said. "There's just something magical about people next to each other grappling and solving problems and sharing ideas together that is just lost now."

For the spring semester, the libraries continue to follow ASU’s COVID-19 guidelines and help students both in person or online.

“We don’t know what Fall 2021 will look like, but we will continue to follow the University’s lead with planning," Lewis wrote. "We remain committed to being flexible and innovative to ensure ASU students have the resources and support they need."

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