The post-pandemic library: how has Covid-19 shaped the changing role of academic libraries?

By: Guest contributor, Tue Apr 26 2022

Author: Guest contributor

Ever-increasing digitization has already brought significant changes in today’s academic libraries. Now, over two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, has the pace of change accelerated? A new content collection from Springer Nature explores what’s changed and what the future holds. If you’d spoken to academic librarians at the end of 2019, you would have heard that the role of the library was changing significantly. Digitization and ever-shrinking budgets had already caused librarians to rethink how libraries would need to be managed in the future.

Then COVID-19 hit – and suddenly changes had to be made right there and then. We all had to figure out entirely new ways of working and libraries were no exception. To help you understand more about the changing role of libraries, we’ve put together a collection of resources, including blogs, whitepapers, a webinar and more.

Key among these resources is a podcast on The Post-Pandemic Library. Liz Mengel, Associate Dean for Collections and Academic Services at Johns Hopkins University, Greg Sheaf, Assistant Librarian at Trinity College Dublin, and Hilde van Wijngaarden, Library Director at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam all spoke to us about the changing role of their own libraries, the balance between physical and online resources and the importance of working together.

Collaboration is ever more important

Developing relationships is a core part of what libraries do, but how has the pandemic affected this function? Greg Sheaf explained that librarians are now being recognized as part of the ‘team’. Librarians’ expertise in constructing and running searches, and presenting the results, is growing in importance as part of the research process.

“When we're trying as academics to solve some of these really big problems the world is facing, working together has to be the way forward,” said Liz Mengel. “I think that's one of the great lessons of the pandemic – that we survived by working together rather than just being an isolated institution. Collaboration has to be more than just a buzzword.”

Hilde van Wijngaarden pointed out that increased remote working has brought benefits for collaboration between institutions by making video calling far more commonplace. This is particularly important when it comes to international collaborations, as there is now a recognition that there’s no need to jump on a plane when a video call will suffice.

There is still much to do to adapt to digitization

While the pandemic has pushed digitization forward, our interviewees were clear that libraries and publishers still had plenty of work ahead to make digital content helpful and accessible for users.

“People often believe that everything is electronic now and it's not,” said Liz Mengel. “And it probably won't be for quite a while. Some books don't translate well into electronic format, for example. The way you read versus the way you scroll is very different.”

The shift to digital has also affected perceptions of the library, as the role of the library has become less obvious. When students can access articles via Google, they often fail to realize that the reason they can access it is thanks to their library negotiating with publishers – something that Hilde van Wijngaarden recognized when we spoke to her. We’ve also touched on this subject in our recent whitepaper.

It isn’t the end of the physical library

Our interviewees all acknowledged that the pandemic has accelerated the move to digital, alongside remote and hybrid working. However, they were also at pains to emphasize that the physical library was still very much wanted. And that the atmosphere and inspiration that people can take from being in a physical library, surrounded by books, was an important part of their experience as students and academics.

“For me, the newest idea is reevaluating our books,” explained Hilde van Wijngaarden. “We are now looking at them not just because of what's in them but because of the inspiration that they bring. They create an environment that breathes science and scholarship – students want to smell it, they want to feel it, they want to be in a place where it feels like they’re surrounded by knowledge.”

Ultimately, everyone we spoke to felt that the pandemic has crystallized what people can and can’t do without – and that academics at all levels have realized how much they love the library.

You can hear the full podcast and access all the resources relating to the changing role of libraries at


Author: Guest contributor

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