As part of our initiative called Curious Cornhuskers, an anonymous reader asked The Daily Nebraskan, “Why is it so difficult to check out books at Love Library right now? Shouldn’t there be an easier way?”

Once upon a time, campus libraries were used primarily to check out books rather than as a popular study space. Contrary to what some may believe, the books aren’t just for decoration; they are still used by University of Nebraska-Lincoln students to this day. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNL Libraries has changed the process of checking-out and returning books to provide easier access to remote students and staff as well as improve the safety of the campus community.

Prior to COVID-19, library patrons were free to browse and roam about the stacks in search of books they would bring to an ASKus desk to check out. According to communications and outreach librarian Joan Barnes, the library staff has focused more on attempting to provide digital content instead of physical copies. 

“If you find a book in the catalog that you want, we are asking people to look for the book online, in HathiTrust or request it through the document delivery form so that we are able to look for it online,” Barnes said. “If we can’t find an online copy in any of our online databases, then we will grab the book off of the shelf for you and contact you when it’s ready to be picked up.”

For those who end up receiving a physical copy of their book, the return process has also changed. When returning physical copies of books, library officials have asked patrons to leave their books on the carts located next to the ASKus desks in the library. The returned books are quarantined on these carts for six days to ensure they are germ-free before returning to the shelves. According to the interlibrary loan manager Joyce Melvin, COVID-19 can live on paper materials for about a week. 

“It’s mostly a public safety issue,” Melvin said. “We can check out books without having a whole bunch of people touching things and spreading the virus that way. It also keeps people from gathering in the library, so this is very much a social distancing thing.”

The library website provides all of the information and directions on how to go about checking books out and returning physical copies to the library. All libraries on campus are using this same process. 

The new protocols due to COVID-19 also make it easier for those working remotely to access library content. According to Melvin, this system is beneficial in providing students with access to the library at all times, and it has boosted the library’s online book request use. 

“You can do it at any time,” Melvin said. “If you’re doing research in your room at midnight and you know there’s a book you’re going to need, you don’t have to wait to go pull one off the shelf in the next couple of days. You can just click the button, and we’ll let you know when it’s ready for you. I think it’s just as easy as the last system, it’s just a different way of doing things.”

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