a kindle propped up against a stack of books When COVID-19 forced students to learn remotely, one of the most basic elements of a college education was called into question: How do we get our books? 

Fortunately, Frost Library had already become a hybrid of print and digital, says Susan J. Kimball, head of access services and interim director of the library. For example, she notes, downloads of the library’s e-book content have more than tripled in the past decade, from around 132,000 chapter downloads per year to over 407,000.

But it’s a wholly new twist to convert to an all-electronic model. And so the current crisis has offered the library staff—most of which is now working from home—a chance to lean into the opportunities that technology affords.

“Essentially we’ve had to recreate all the functions of the library halfway through the semester with entirely different formats,” says Missy Roser ’94, head of research and instruction. “We’ve had to match our needs to an online-only format and integrate that into our regular workflow, for our entire population.”

The library is directly helping 80 classes transition to online resources. This has involved setting up over 250 e-book and other digital reserves, for example, and physically scanning 120 pieces of text.

“What I think helped us a lot was the forethought and getting that heads-up early that this was what we were going to do, and then moving our team into action,” Roser says.

When the announcement came that remote learning would begin after spring break, the library’s first mandate was clear: making sure students had the print and digital books they needed.

“We were very cognizant that students had so many other things to worry about,” Roser says. “They were just trying to get home.” So, the library staff pushed out a simple message to students—especially those working on theses: “Take all your books. Take whatever you need. Don’t worry about it; we'll figure it out later.” 

The library has waived recalls and fines for late books and extended due dates. These policies also apply to material borrowed from the other libraries in the Five Colleges.

Librarians found websites that offer texts at no cost, as well as publishing houses that have made their content free in response to the pandemic. In other cases, the library has purchased new texts.

Before remote classes even began, the research and instruction librarians consulted with faculty, making sure professors had the materials they’d need for the rest of the semester. Consultations with the librarians, usually offered between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., are now available remotely from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., to accommodate students and faculty living across time zones. 

In a lucky coincidence, preparations long underway for the College’s 2021 Bicentennial have included digitizing many archival texts and making those texts publicly available. “Digital Programs staff have been working incredibly closely with Archives and Special Collections to digitize and identify the most-used materials in the archives,” Roser says. “All the work that they’ve put in in the last couple of years means that we have a lot of Amherst-specific archives material available that otherwise would not be.”