As the COVID-19 outbreak worsens, universities are under exceptionally challenging circumstances whilst publishers are asked to give greater access to their content.
Now all face-to-face teaching has ceased, universities are moving at pace to deliver all their teaching, research and digital scholarship online whilst keeping their staff and students safe.
Higher education libraries have a long-standing record of adopting technologies to deliver an excellent student experience, delivering content and highly tailored support to the 2.3 million students, postgraduates and researchers at UK universities.
The immediate concern for university libraries is ensuring that staff and users can continue to work as smoothly as possible under the circumstances.
Staff and students require full digital, remote access to the software, tools and content they would normally have normally have been able to access regardless of whether they were on or off campus. This means moving all on-campus support to online modes at a time when support staffing is lower and unpredictable.
Software and content that cannot be accessed remotely and by multiple users at the same time is no longer useful. Libraries also need to find the means to get library content that is held in print to all its users in a way that is usable and legal.
Access to content held in print
In contrast to journals, many books are not available in an electronic format.
Libraries have previously managed access to book content in various ways, from buying multiple print copies to providing access via e-textbook platforms or, in rare cases, providing copies of e-textbooks to each user.
Libraries also use the CLA UUK/GuildHE Higher Education Licence to copy sections of books, magazines, journals and websites. In practice, this is mostly used to digitise extracts for use in teaching.
As identified in the ‘Understanding the value of the CLA Licence’ report, many universities would prefer to purchase e-book content digitally in its entirety but are unable to because the licences are unsuitable, too expensive or both.
Calling on publishers and library providers
As university campuses close to protect staff, researchers and students from coronavirus, universities are racing to scale up their service delivery to provide access to content and software.
We are asking providers and licensors to help make this happen by temporarily removing paywalls or other barriers to use.
Whilst universities appreciate offers of free library trials, they do not have the capacity to set up authentication and discovery to each individual publisher’s separate content offers. Publishers can help remove manual intervention by offering extended free trials and by adding content to ‘subscribed’ content lists without universities or their users needing to individually register.
We are particularly impressed by the efforts of e-textbook aggregators including Kortext, BibliU, VitalSource and participating publishers that have granted access to textbooks, monographs, and other core learning materials at no cost to universities.
We call upon all remaining publishers to adopt the measures set out in the statement on access to content so all students can access all their materials remotely and researchers can continue to work, collaborate and innovate in these difficult and exceptional circumstances.
Over the coming days we will contact publishers and library providers to capture access arrangements and communicate these arrangements to institutions. In the medium term we want to work with publishers to put in place clear exit arrangements so that users are not cut off from core material too quickly.
If you are a publisher or contact provider and want to let us know about the measures you’re taking, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.