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The centre of student life: the library

What our library is doing to keep us safe and support us at the same time

by Zsofia Kiszely

Courtesy of Ian Cowe on Flickr

I think it is fair to say that many students are missing the ‘normal’ library life. I reached out to the library in the hopes of doing an interview with someone to get a deeper insight into what it’s like for the library staff to work under the current circumstances, as well as finding out more about what the library has implemented in order to keep everyone safe. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to sit down (through Teams, of course) with Simon Bains, the director of The Sir Duncan Rice Library.

My first and foremost question was: In what ways did the pandemic affect the library and how did the library cope with the large online demand? Mr Bains highlighted that even though our physical buildings have been shut and it only works at a limited capacity at the moment, the library has never been shut completely, apart from holiday periods.

‘It’s often framed as the libraries have been shut or the universities have been shut, and you know it’s not been the case and I think it fails to recognise the work that has been going on to try and keep things going. So, even when the buildings have been closed, we have been operating one way or the other.’

The library has also had to implement new digital resources for students and staff that would have been accomplished in a longer period of time in normal circumstances.

‘So, the creation of our reading list services from scratch as an example and the introduction of the new systems to support that. We would have expected to spend two years doing that. We did it in 5 months and we haven’t completed it, but the work went at the rate of knots.’

During my conversation with Mr Bains, I realised that many students, including myself, don’t even realise how much energy, thought and money it takes to make all the resources available to us. One of the many striking, new pieces of information that Mr Bains has told me is about the cost of buying and making e-books available to all students at the university.

‘The prices vary, but I’ve seen an example where the cost to buy a single digital electronic textbook and to make it available to all the students would cost us £25,000 a year for that single textbook.

‘We have also worked out that the popular electronic textbooks, one per student of Aberdeen, we think would cost us at least £1,000,000 a year. So, it’s well beyond our means. I have a budget for buying content and it’s not unreasonable, it’s reasonably good, but it’s nowhere near to be able to do that sort of thing.’

In terms of keeping everyone safe, the library has been working closely with the health and safety department, as well as closely following the government guidance on Covid-19 safety measures.

‘[…] we created something called the standard operating procedure and every building in the University has a standard operating procedure which explains how it’s responding to the Covid constraints. And we produced those for each of our libraries and they cover things like: how we are controlling access, how we are controlling numbers, what we are doing about cleaning, what we are doing about one-way systems, use of the lifts, all of those things that you see in the signs when you come in the library’.

As a final note, I would like to encourage everyone to read the rules before entering the library and respect those rules because they are implemented for your own safety as well as for the safety of the library staff.


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