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04th May 2020 Joanna Bowring, College Librarian

Making library resources available to Exeter’s students around the world

Librarian Joanna Bowring explains how Exeter College's students are still able to access the library resources they need, even during the COVID-19 crisis.

Like many other libraries in Oxford, Exeter College Library and the Special Collections Library and Archive in Cohen Quad have both been closed since 23 March, and you may be wondering how Exeter’s students are now getting the library materials they need for their studies.

The obvious answer is that they are now asked to find material online, and since the virus lockdown started the Bodleian Library (who supply all of the university and college electronic resources centrally) have massively increased the number of e-books and journals available to all members of the university. They have successfully negotiated with e-publishers to relax their licensing restrictions during the crisis and this means our students have a lot more e-resources open to them for the next few months. The College Library is now very busy advising students what is available online and how they can access it. We are also updating tutors’ reading lists with links to e-books and journals.

In addition, Exeter College Library contributes to a joint college libraries’ fund to buy additional e-books which are not available via the Bodleian. We have recently doubled our contribution to this fund to cope with increased online demands.

But how do students get their hands on material which is not available electronically? Well, we are now posting books from Exeter’s Library to students and, if the book needed is not in Exeter’s Library, it can be purchased from a bookseller and sent directly to the student at home. We are also scanning excerpts from books, and journal articles and emailing them out to readers; this is especially useful for students who are overseas.

The library staff are largely working from home, with weekly forays in to College to post and scan. Meanwhile, the libraries lie locked and silent, waiting like all of us for a more normal life to resume.

Exeter’s innovative students have, however, decided that if they cannot sit in the library, a space so conducive to concentration and study, that the library’s ambience must be available to them online. They have set up a “virtual library”, using the video app Zoom, which is open every day. Students join the Zoom group with their computer video cameras on and their microphones muted. It allows students to feel that they are surrounded by their peers, and they are not alone as they revise or write essays. Students wishing to have a break or chat with friends can join a breakout room, which acts as a “virtual JCR”. The virtual library has been extremely popular and an especially useful study aid for finalists, and its model has been replicated by several other colleges.

JCR President Will Dobbs said: “At first the idea was a bit of fun, but then we thought having an online space where people could work alongside each other might make it more bearable.

“We planned on opening it only on weekday mornings, but it has since taken off and it is now open all day throughout the week. People come and go as they like and keep it on in the background while they work. It has only worked because everyone has responded so well and kept it busy.”

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