Presently all the educational institutions are closed due to COVID 19. All types of Libraries including National Libraries of about 160 countries are also closed. Library professionals were, and are, at the forefront to navigate the treasure of knowledge available on all subjects through open sources arranged online training programmes for the faculty members, research scholars, students. The mediums that are used to impart learning are Zoom, Google Meet, Google Class Room, Skype, Cisco Webex, Facebook Live, YouTube Live etc. to name a few. Different webinars are arranged by the Library Professionals to highlight the treasure of knowledge that is available and yet to be explored.
Large number of countries have laid down the policies for libraries to be adopted during and post COVID period as moves towards the reopening of libraries are increasingly on the agenda, as countries look to lift broader restrictions. Decisions will of course need to be based on overall assessment. It seems that India is yet to lay down any Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for assuming the functioning of National Library, Higher Education Institutional Libraries like Universities, IIT’s, IIM’s, NIT’s, Public Libraries and other Libraries. Libraries are public places where we can find heavy rush during 24×7 hours. We have to take certain measures and also to make necessary changes to Library Policies in order to check the spread of COVID- 19 and at the same time to take such measures so that faculty members, scholars, students etc. may not suffer for want of reading materials.
In addition to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, we can opt the following precautionary measures depending upon the type of library. These precautionary measures are based on the recommendations of National Library Associations of different Countries and International Library Associations like IFLA.
- Use of hand sanitizer, face shield, face mask, thermal scanner, book isolation box, gloves, counter shield, disinfectant spray etc.
- Surface cleaning including library computers
- Staff and users encouraged if they are not feeling well
- Providing useful links to reliable information on their websites
- Implementing quarantine policies on returned printed books. The recommended quarantine period for physical lending material (books, DVDs etc.) at risk of contamination from the COVID-19 Virus varies i.e. 72 hours, 48 hours and 24 hours. For this period, the materials should be placed in boxes, sealed and date marked and where possible, stored in a separate locations.
- Library materials within the library which have not been handled since the closure of libraries in March 2020 are ready for lending as the 72 hour quarantine period has now passed.
- Library materials that were returned before the closure of libraries in March 2020 and have not been handled are ready for lending as the 72 hour quarantine period has now passed since the items were returned.
- Users could be asked to indicate if books being returned have been in contact with someone with the virus disease.
- Steps to be taken to open the limited number of sections/divisions especially in large libraries.
- Not touching the books which users plan to borrow. If possible, keep the shelves in-accessible at first and only allowing library staff themselves to fetch. Let the user consult catalogue and provide desired call no. to library staff on duty.
- Over dues/fines are to be waived off for the books which cannot be returned due to COVID- 19
- Let us McDonalize (derived from famous brand McDonald, American fast food Company) the libraries during COVID period i.e. to apply four elements viz. Predictability, Calculability, Efficiency and Control.
- Great care is to be taken as the journey of printed book has to cross several stages from publisher’s shelf to reader’s hand.
- Procurement/Acquisition division staff has to take care as they deal with the material coming from different cities of the country and different countries of the world.
- No one is expected to return books until things return to normal.
- Physical distancing of at least 2 metres for users of library and staff.
- Anyone with fever or cough should stay at home.
- After handling of books, hands should be washed for 20 seconds.
Role of Leading Publishers
Leading Publishers at global level have initiated to provide free access to e-Books/online journals and other online materials during COVID period. Different databases are available from leading publishers about COVID- 19. They are expected to continue this initiative till normalcy is returned.
Role of Government Organisations
Government organisations like MHRD, UGC, INFLIBNET, AICTE, NDL etc. are playing an important role in providing study materials.
Role of Library Professionals
In addition to other duties, library professionals have to keep themselves aware about latest information resources for dissemination of global research on COVID-19 disease. They have to be updated with different databases on COVID-19 and also updates of WHO about COVID. Further, library professionals should be aware and able to disseminate global map live maintained by Centre for Systems Science and Engineering at John Hopkins University and also about Worldometer maintained by Team of Researchers based in United States. Library Professionals have to play an important role in indexing vast volumes of information on COVID- 19 and they have to make sense of COVID information. Presently Ms. Elaine Hicks, Public Health Librarian at Tulane University plays important role in indexing the vast volumes of information on COVID-19. Library Professionals can take up scientometrics / bibliometrics/ citation analysis/ research output studies to help the scientists in their research in order to find the everlasting solution of the disease.
Role of Institutions
Institutions must allocate special grants for procurement of e-Books/online journals and other online study materials. To procure remote access softwares, so that the readers can consult online subscribed/digitised resources at any time at anywhere in order to minimise the human touch in libraries and in other words we must reach to the door steps of readers/users.
Lastly, Library Professionals/Libraries worldwide are devoting vast resources to mitigate the public health impact of COVID-19 by providing the relevant Information at right time to the Scientists/Doctors and other stakeholders in order to combat the COVID-19. The Covid-19 crisis has acted as an inflection point, throwing into sharp relief the many benefits of digital/open libraries. There is no doubt COVID-19 has put brakes to academic activity, but libraries are and will ensure the continuity of academics.
Author is former Head Central Library, University of Kashmir. He is Governing Board member of Indian Association of Special Libraries and Information Centres, and Advisor Libraries, J&K Government