The Impact of Covid-19 on Research Libraries Across Europe

Posted: 11-12-2020 Topics: Coronavirus COVID-19 Libraries

Panel Discussion: Research Libraries & COVID-19 – Impact & Future Plans

On Friday the 3rd of December 2020, we held our very last online event for the year. The event, a panel discussion titled, ‘Research Libraries & COVID-19 – Impact & Plans for the Future’, outlined the main findings of our recent survey on the topic of Covid-19. The survey was sent out to all research libraries across Europe and it ran from the 16th of October to the 23rd of November 2020. The findings are outlined below and in our report.


Purpose of the Covid-19 Survey

Our survey was aimed at addressing the overall effects COVID-19 has had on research libraries thus far. It also aimed to outline the current situation within research libraries as far as the maintaining/building of library services is concerned during Covid. Moreover, the survey serves as a crucial tool to help ascertain LIBER’s future role in serving our member libraries through times of crisis.

As we move towards a post-pandemic reconstruction of the library and scholarly information landscape, we believe that collaboration across the European library network will be fundamental. This will help us share collective expertise and allow libraries from across the entire LIBER community to play their part in helping with the necessary work of social and educational reconstruction.


The Panel Discussion

LIBER’s Executive Director, Astrid Verheusen, presented the main findings of the survey results as an introduction to the Covid-19 panel discussion.

Hilde van Wijngaarden, LIBER Treasurer and Director of the University Library at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam served as moderator of the discussion.

The panellists were:

  • Jeannette Frey, LIBER President and Director of Bibliothèque Cantonale et Universitaire (BCU) Lausanne
  • Matt Greenhall, Deputy Executive Director, RLUK
  • Mary Lee Kennedy, Executive Director, Association of Research Libraries (ARL)
  • Martine Pronk, Division Manager, Academic Services, University of Utrecht Library
  • Giannis Tsakonas, Director, Library & Information Center, University of Patras


Who Participated in our Covid-19 Survey?

Covid-19 Survey Research Libraries

The survey received 298 responses from libraries across Europe. A total of 31 countries participated, with 2 entries from non-identified countries, although from the comments, these countries are assumed to be Montenegro and Lichtenstein.

Switzerland accounts for 22,67% of the answers (56 responses), followed by France at 12.15% (30), and then both Sweden and the UK at 8.0% (20) each. Denmark and Germany accounted for 6.07% (15) each, followed by the Netherlands with 3.64% (9).

As we have the most results from Switzerland and northern European countries, we believe this affects the overall results and conclusions we can derive. To understand results in a regional context, we used the LIBER ABC member categories (originally taken from the European Council’s categories). LIBER uses these categories to identify its membership fees for libraries and institutions (you can view these categories in the Annex of the report). Note that in no way do these categories reflect any opinion regarding any country’s status. Note also that overall results included in this report cover all participating countries and institutions.

We saw that most institutions 72.87% (180 responses), whose members participated in the survey, are academic libraries. Special libraries come in second at 12.55% (31), other types (municipal, school, public, national and university, hospital, international organisation, state, cantonal, both academic and public, school and public libraries, and library consortium) at 8.91% (22), and national libraries at 5.67% (14) respectively. 51 participants did not indicate their type of institution.


Main Survey Takeaways
  • There is extreme diversity in answers. This needs to be further examined in our future research and activities.
  • Health and safety of staff is a top concern regarding working within physical library spaces.
  • Reorganisation of libraries, physical spaces, digital infrastructure takes a prominent place in the minds of participants.
  • Dialogue is especially important now.
  • There is a definite focus on increased online training.
  • Respondents wish to know/see how their peers are coping. What are other libraries doing to deal with this situation? What measures have been put in place?
  • Digitisation is on everyone’s minds and agendas. There is a digital divide now, and we need to be careful not to alienate those who are behind in digitalisation.
  • Open is the way forward. There is a lot of talk about Open Access, Open Science, and Open Education in several responses.
  • Action needs to be taken regarding licensing and copyright legislation.


Key Findings

Section 1 (Current Situation as of Fall 2020) and 2 (Availability of Services and Materials):

  • 70,79% (143) said health and safety of staff was a main concern.
  • 61,73% (121) of participants did not have trouble with the usage of digital materials for remote purposes, because of copyright law infringement.
  • 59.50% (119) participants said that their relationship with publishers remained the same.
  • 52,36% (111) answered that there was no governmental support.
  • 52,20% (107) said no budget cuts were planned.
  • Redefining services 49.26% (100) received the highest response for the main focuses for libraries by end March 2020.
  •  41,87% (85) of participants answered that their budget allocation remained the same.
  • A little over half of participants, 55,61% (114) said yes to more digital materials.
  • 42,29% (85) of participants had open licenses to multiple users for free and 16.92% (34) for a reduced fee.
  • 40,30% (81) had extended licenses/courses for free and 18.91% (38) for a reduced fee.
  • 37,32% (78) of participants answered that they increased their digital services and applications to cope with Covid-19.
  • 33,49% (71) of participants answered that the quality of library services was affected, but only a little.


Section 3: How Can LIBER Support Research Libraries?
  • 79,08% (155) want more materials available digitally.
  • A surprising majority 55,23% (95) answered no to support with studies at European level.
  • Online services and events to support Open Access; help librarians cope with Covid-19; and support in moving towards complete digitisation were the top 3 requests coming in at 55,14% (102), 48.11% (89) and 42.16% (78) respectively.
  • 44,77% (77) provided varied answers for support on topics such as Copyright, Covid-19, Open Access, Open Education, and Open Science.
  • Support in voicing concerns to European Parliament and budgetary issues within the context of Covid-19 at European level received 39,46% (73 responses) each.
  • Support in running webinars received 38,22% (73).
  • Support in Training and Online Networking received 30,37% (58 responses) each.


 The Way Forward?

As a result of the extensive data garnered by LIBER on the topic of Covid-19, we are further exploring the wishes and needs of libraries at present. One way in which LIBER is actively doing so, is through examination of the need for mass digital content for libraries and their users and the accessibility of such content. This accessibility has been significantly hindered and varies from country to country. More details on how LIBER is strategically working towards this topic will be made available in the coming weeks.