Carnegie Mellon University Libraries Create Remote Book Delivery

Carnegie Mellon University librarians have initiated a new service, Remote Book Delivery, which allows them to order print materials from vendors and have them sent directly to students whose workflow has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and who may not be able to find the books they need online. The service will help students like Sofía Bosch Gómez, a CMU doctoral student in transition design, to get the resources she needs to finish her dissertation from her Mexico City home.

Hunt Library at Carnegie Mellon University exterior, at night, lit up in different colors
Hunt Library at Carnegie Mellon University

Sofía Bosch Gómez was preparing to graduate from Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) School of Design before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted her semester. A doctoral student in transition design, Gómez returned home to Mexico City to finish her dissertation when the CMU campus shut down. Unfortunately, she needed access to an important resource about the development of industrial and graphic design in Latin America, “Historia del diseño en América Latina y el Caribe.” She searched for an electronic edition online, but could not find anything through CMU Libraries’ e-resources.

Gómez contacted Jill Chisnell, design librarian at CMU Libraries, for help. While working from home, Chisnell confirmed that an ebook version did not exist, and contacted the Acquisitions department for a solution. The librarians decided to order the book and have it shipped directly to Gómez, beginning a new service for print-only materials called “Remote Book Delivery.”

“We began work on [the Remote Book Delivery] service as soon as we knew there would be no personnel in our buildings,” said A.M. Salaz, associate dean for research and academic services at CMU Libraries. “We threw out the usual rulebook and focused on finding any solution that could get ourselves, our incredible students, and our colleagues through this crazy time.”

No print materials are circulating through conventional means. To ease their transition to remote teaching, CMU librarians, as at colleges and university across the country, fulfilled orders for e-resources, and the Technical Services department offered additional remote access to textbooks through collaborations with online platforms—particularly crucial because the shutdown occurred while the majority of students were away from campus for spring break, leaving behind many coursework and research materials.

The sole staff member who can enter the physical library building only does so in case there is an emergency with the technological infrastructure enabling this sudden pedagogical shift to virtual education.

“We’re currently in an unprecedented situation where libraries are closed physically.” Neelam Bharti, interim associate dean for library technology and technical services and senior librarian, says. “That means no book processing at libraries.… Interlibrary book loans and EZ borrow services are also not available. If the material is available only in print, ordering books directly from their vendors is the only method to provide continuous access to resources.” Staff members have been able to locate electronic alternatives for the majority of requests, but as Gómez’s situation illustrates, despite the ramping up of e-resources, there is still need for materials that can’t be accessed online.

CMU Libraries’ Technical Services team collaborated with the Research and Academic Services department to implement the new service, delivering books to faculty and graduate students. The staff built workflows to check the availability of print material online from approved vendors and to order and process the material, then worked to ensure that patrons’ information is securely acquired so that books can be delivered to their home addresses. Finally, the Technical Services staff developed a checklist for each order to track the book from the original request to the delivery date. Only vendors, including Amazon and ABEBooks, that are willing to ship directly to students can be considered.

To date, CMU has helped 14 faculty and PhD students, including Gómez and two others who live outside the United States, via the new Remote Book Delivery service, which is paid for out of a small collections fund set aside for pandemic orders (it is not available to undergraduates). Students who receive books will be required to return them when campus reopens, when they will be added to the print collection, much like California’s Zip Books program.

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