We are all currently facing unprecedented challenges, as are the communities in which we live, along with the libraries we work for that support these communities. As our University Vice-Chancellor has written to staff “the coronavirus crisis is first and foremost a public-health emergency” and while there are other important aspects of this crisis that I could be writing about, digital inclusion remains crucial. We should continue making our websites as accessible, usable, and helpful as possible or we risk isolating people further over this period. This post is written in the spirit of open practice not opportunism; it will share some of the developments that we’ve made to our website and services since the lockdown in the hope that they can be re-used.
1. Added co-ordinated notifications
We’ve added notifications to many pages summarising what’s changed in relation to the information on that page. For example, the Your Library account page now has a notification explaining that books do not need to be returned and are renewed automatically. When we add notifications to a page, we add that URL to a spreadsheet noting the change and when we made it; so when procedures change again we can update corresponding pages quickly.
2. Hidden and re-organised information
We’ve taken the decision to hide some pages (or sections of pages) where the information is no longer correct or relevant, for example we’ve temporarily hidden our ‘Visiting other libraries’ page. We have also reorganised pages so that the most useful information comes first. For example our Find and request books page has been reorganised to follow the path that people now need to take: search our collection for a digital copy, place an interlibrary loan if we don’t currently have it, and if we can’t get it that way make a purchase suggestion.
3. Created FAQs
I’m not normally a fan of FAQs but users have been asking for one page containing key information about how the Library is now working. The Library FAQs LibGuide was created to address this need and has become one of our most viewed pages. It contains answers to the questions we’ve been most commonly asked over this period, a list containing the freely available resources being temporarily made available by publishers, how-to videos, guidance on tackling the infodemic and more. We’ve also placed a prominent link to the FAQs at the top of the Library homepage to drive visitors to it as a first port of call.
4. Replaced tours of the library building with a tour of the library website
A large part of this work has involved thinking about where we can offer online alternatives to our physical services. Where we would normally offer tours of the library building, we have instead created a short video to provide a tour of the library website; showing visitors how to get the most out of our digital services.
5. Replaced room bookings with Zoom bookings
While the library building is closed we’ve replaced the room bookings section of the website with links to Zoom guides (the University’s chosen platform) showing students how they can meet with their group remotely instead.
6. Replaced guidance on finding books with guidance on finding ebooks
Our ‘How to find’ books page was solely focussed on our physical collections, showing people how to find books on the shelves. Instead of hiding this page we temporarily replaced it with a new How to find ebooks page containing a video. This has become another of our most viewed pages.
7. Updated visitor information to include guidance on finding Open Access research
Our information for visitors page had previously contained information on schemes such as SCONUL Access. In an effort to be responsive, and focusing on what we can currently provide as opposed to what is no longer available, we have temporarily hidden the information about these schemes and added a video showing visitors how to find and access OA research with our discovery tool. We’ve also added this to our Special Collections page while the archives are closed, along with links through to relevant digital archives.
8. Added our chat box to more pages across the site (and extended hours)
To provide as much support as possible to our community we have extended the hours of our chat service and added it to over thirty pages across the site as our digital frontline.
9. Promoted the SensusAccess service
This automated service converts files into formats that are more accessible or just a bit easier to digest – for example changing a pdf to an mp3. We’ve added the link to our discovery tool so that it appears in the details of any electronic material found, and added it to pages across the site. We’ve also made a video to show people how to reformat files in this way. Along with other changes, we would like to organise remote testing with our users to see if these are the best places for the SensusAccess links and what else can be changed to help.
10. Added photos of staff working from home
To show visitors that we are still open and here to help we’ve also added photos of staff working from home to pages across the website (the photo below appeared in a temporary feature we had on the Library homepage when the lockdown began and has since been replaced with the Library tour video):
Much work is going on behind the scenes to make these services function: resources being added to our LibGuides and discovery tool; digital materials being acquired through ILR and reading lists; staffing of our extended chat service; promotion of these evolving digital services through social media and news items; and much more. However, this post is not intended to show-off about the work we have done: boasts of productivity help no-one. It is instead a recognition of colleagues’ tremendous efforts. I have written about our work in the hope that you will be able to re-use some of these ideas, instead of having to come up with your own, and as a result save a little mental energy for when you need it most.
Learning & Teaching Librarian
University of Sussex Library