One Academic Library’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic: A Snapshot

The University of Hawai’i at Mānoa campus was closed to the public but open to faculty and students on March 15. The library closed to all on March 17, but the computer lab remained open on the first floor of Hamilton Library, because the University had moved all classes online for the remainder of the semester, and not all students had access to computers or the internet.

exterior or Hamilton Library with stairs, treesThe University of Hawai’i at Mānoa campus was closed to the public but open to faculty and students on March 15. The library closed to all on March 17, but the computer lab remained open on the first floor of Hamilton Library, because the University had moved all classes online for the remainder of the semester, and not all students had access to computers or the internet. Because of the lack of access to print books, our ILL librarian requested the purchase of ebooks from selectors, even if the usual parameters, such as date, were not met for purchase. Chapters of print books are copied and sent to faculty and students when staffing permits. During chat, email, and phone calls, patrons are directed to alternative resources. Borrowed books that are returned are kept in the book return bin for several days, to reduce possible viral contamination, and the books are backdated to avoid accruing fines, until they are deemed safe to handle. All books approaching the due date are being extended to avoid the patron entering the campus.

Chat Reference was established in our library during summer 2019. A working group was formed to investigate the feasibility of a chat service and it was agreed upon to have a pilot program with Springhare. It was determined that if the number of chats were one and a half times the number of library phone requests, we would consider the trial a success. Several departments agreed to staff it. Two departments allow library interns to staff chat reference after being trained. The usual shift was two hours. Several departments monitor the chat at a time, with other departments available to have a chat transferred to them if a more specialized reference interview was needed.

A large increase in questions was seen when a chat request box was put into the Discovery Tool. From November 2019’s 27 questions the number increased to December 2019’s 317 questions. The timing was extremely fortuitous. We were able to adjust to chat and become comfortable before the immense need to use it was created. The chat tool was well established before the pandemic necessitated its use, allowing a smoother transition to online reference questions for both the university community and the librarians who staffed it.

Our department, Science and Technology, meets (remotely via Zoom) daily, during the week, to discuss group projects, individual projects, different library organization meetings, and any concerns that we might have. In talking with our coworkers, we discovered that few departments met as frequently during our working from home period. The meetings keep us up to date and informed, as well reducing the isolation that has been common for many during this period. The meetings allow us to continue working collaboratively. Our University Librarian takes the time to attend library department meetings remotely, as well as sending a daily email to the library staff, keeping us encouraged and informed.

In order to keep faculty aware of new resources, we send out frequent updates and are able to point to a specific spot on our Databases page that houses all of the temporary resources available during the crisis period. Being a liaison who keeps in close contact with faculty is more important than ever.

This strange period has been an opportunity to reach out to faculty that may not always to respond to offers of teaching assistance or possible book purchases. It has been the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the value of the library to the university, and our unique position to partner together to serve students and the university community as a whole.


Patricia Brandes is library liaison to the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. Her interests include open access resources for agriculture. She lives in Honolulu.

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