AASL Column, April 2020
Lucy Campbell and Barbara Opar, column editors
Column by Barbara Opar
It is a changed world out there. We in academia have had to adjust very quickly—faculty to preparing lectures with the resources on hand and then recording them online using newly prescribed software; librarians to dealing with reference queries that were once easy to answer in the print world but now with limited online content. And what about our students? They can no longer presume that they can consult older periodical issues or study structural systems on actual drawings. Many are unaware of what they cannot access. All of us have had to make quick adjustments to different resources and content.
But we have had support. Many vendors have stepped up and offered free content for the duration of the pandemic without the expectation of purchase. Examples are numerous and often surprising. By March 25, RedShelf and VitalSource opened access to hundreds of textbooks for free to faculty and staff at qualifying colleges and universities impacted by this crisis. Proquest is offering access to 150,000 titles. Sage Knowledge and Project Muse are on board as well as presses like Duke University and the University of Michigan. Brepolis and DeGruyter are among more commercial vendors expanding their access to nonsubscribers. Want to keep current with periodical literature? Then you can turn to Flipster or RBDigital. Streaming video content is being offered up by ArtFilms Digital, Kanopy, and Swank. The list goes on. Academic libraries with such access have often listed it right on their home pages. Your architecture librarians have taken this one step further and tailored this information for your own institution.
But there are two other important sources of content that I wish to bring to your attention. The first is Hathi Trust which was initially designed as a collaboration of the Big Ten Academic Alliance, the University of California system and the University of Virginia to establish a repository for archiving and sharing digital collections. Many other libraries have joined. As a repository, Hathi Trust contains both public domain as well as copyrighted material. By request, member libraries now have temporary digital access to over 50 percent of copyrighted print holdings. Libraries must meet standards such as no physical access to print collections and adhere to the Trust’s copyright guidelines. Check your libraries’ database menu. There are also ways to access some content as a guest at the organization’s site.
Everyone has also heard about the Internet Archive. But you may not know much about its latest initiative which some consider very controversial. The Internet Archive is a 501c 3 non-profit organization based in San Francisco and founded in 1996 by Brewster Kahle. To date, it has captured 20 petabytes of data. It partners with libraries to preserve and make accessible 20th-century resources in a broad array of topics and formats. The mission of its Open Library is “universal access to all knowledge”. In early March as the United States was beginning to understand the pandemic, the Internet Archive launched the National Emergency Library. Instead of controlling the number of copies of a title circulating at a time, the Library decided to remove limits. Traditionally, the number of copies available for circulation was based on the number of print copies in its own collection, and a waitlist was created for additional borrowers. That feature has been removed, allowing for unlimited access. The Internet Archive does not claim to include everything, but a quick search of the late Michael Sorkin’s writings shows some interesting content. One of two titles available here, but not commercially through any vendors, is the popular Variations on a Theme Park, making the Internet Archive another valuable source of online content. Initially well received and endorsed by a significant number of libraries including MIT, the Archive is now facing lawsuits and backlash from groups including the Authors Guild.
Life as we knew it has changed overnight. We are all proceeding as best as we can and making use of what is at hand and easily obtainable. What is certain is that each of these initiatives has helped in some way. Library suppliers have been offering deferred payments and cost reductions. The free albeit temporary content has made a tremendous difference in the past month and a half and will continue to do so as we all work to provide the services for which we are responsible.