Frequently asked questions: resource sharing practice in the time of COVID-19, Phase I

Phase I FAQ

I’ve written previously in this space about the interlibrary loan community’s amazing efforts to keep collection sharing services running in spite of the unprecedented disruptions wrought by the global pandemic. More recently, I reported on best practices emerging from the SHARES resource sharing consortium on how to manage overdues and the return of physical items in the midst of an ongoing public health crisis. These best practices grew out of discussions that took place at fifty virtual SHARES town halls convened between March and December this year, where collection sharing experts came together every week to support each other and figure out how to keep connecting scholars with the research materials they need, obstacles be darned.

Today I am pleased to share highlights of the first 25 SHARES town halls, in the form of a new document entitled Frequently Asked Questions: Resource Sharing Practice in the Time of COVID-19. The highlights are presented in the form of topical FAQs, and the authors are these talented and dedicated volunteers from the SHARES Best Practices Working Group:

  • Beth Posner, The Graduate Center, CUNY
  • Lapis David Cohen, University of Pennsylvania
  • Meg Massey, Pennsylvania State University
  • Phoebe Walker, New York University

Autumn Mather of the Art Institute of Chicago also contributed to the effort in the early days.

The document’s introduction notes some of the pressing collection sharing topics that absorbed the attention of SHARES members from late March through mid-June, as the pandemic spread across the globe:

  • Creating new ways to track things that our current interlibrary loan technical infrastructure isn’t able to track, such as which lenders are able to scan from print materials as opposed to just supplying from e-resources
  • Navigating the copyright implications of resource sharing during a pandemic when most physical libraries are closed
  • Strategizing about utilizing usage data for material temporarily brought out from behind paywalls by publishers and content providers in negotiating for expanded access after the pandemic
  • Pondering what the long-term effects of the pandemic will be on libraries, resource sharing, and the way research is conducted
  • Coping with working from home and providing services remotely for the first time
  • Addressing health and safety concerns related to the pandemic
  • Finding creative ways to manage staff working remotely and keep everyone engaged in useful tasks

Some of the FAQ entries are brief and factual (“Q: Is copyright relaxed during the pandemic crisis? A: No, copyright law is still in force during the pandemic crisis.”) while others, such as Beth Posner’s entry on Long Term Effects, take the form of elegant essays.

Much of the material reads like it could have been written yesterday, while some of the operational aspects are already more useful as history than as current best practice; circumstances have evolved with astonishing speed since the first half of this year.

A Phase II document covering SHARES town halls 26 through 40 is in the works, featuring topics such as mailing books to remote library users, communicating effectively with users during the pandemic, handling physical library materials safely, and managing the complexities of offering library users digital access to the HathiTrust’s Emergency Temporary Access Service (ETAS), which requires taking one’s print copy of a book out of circulation while ETAS access is available. At least four FAQ documents are planned, to cover the entire first year of the pandemic, quarter by quarter.

The global resource sharing community shares much more than just library materials. Interlibrary loan practitioners have been enthusiastic outward-facing collaborators for decades, and they are well-practiced in the arts of sharing expertise and teaming up to solve challenges. The FAQs from the SHARES town halls represent just one more contribution to an ongoing conversation, happening everywhere, every hour of every day, within a community whose members really know how to pull together.