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Policy Updates and Considerations

Policy Updates and Considerations (updated 11/24/2020)

As we work to remain open during the 2020-2021 academic year, we continue our core mission to provide you with the broadest possible access to our expertise, collections, and spaces while prioritizing the safety of faculty, staff, and students.

Ongoing research about handling museum, library, and archival materials and the COVID-19 virus indicates that the novel coronavirus can survive on paper in book collections for four days. This requires that we quarantine all library materials at least four days after circulation. 

To further eliminate the risk of COVID-19 transmission through collections handling, we must take the following actions:

  • Prioritize electronic access to collections and limit physical access to books and other materials
  • Adjust our library spaces to meet university and local guidelines for social distancing and population density
  • Limit library access to NCard holders and by appointment for non-NCard holders

Prioritize Electronic Access to Collections and Limit Physical Access to Books and Other Materials:

In response to the unprecedented challenges of the current pandemic, the HathiTrust partnership activated its Emergency Temporary Access Service (ETAS) during the spring 2020 semester. We want to continue offering this service and maximize our electronic collection access for members of the UNL community who may not be able to return to campus in the fall.

In order to comply with collections quarantine requirements and the ETAS terms of services, all library stacks are closed for the Fall Semester until further notice. The majority of BTAA Libraries are taking a similar approach to stacks access and ETAS.

Items from our collections may be requested through our Delivery Forms. However, if the item is available electronically through our ETAS, we will prioritize delivery of the electronic version. Items not accessible for immediate online access via ETAS will be pulled from the shelves by Libraries staff and delivered to the nearest open campus library where you may pick up the item.

We understand the impact this has on you as researchers, instructors, and students. However, we cannot make individual exceptions to provide physical items available electronically through HathiTrust without violating the terms of the ETAS. In other words, ETAS must stay on for everyone at UNL, or be turned off for all. Most users who have objected express a preference for print over electronic, but where this is a preference and not a case in which the electronic version cannot support the use (such as errors in or missing elements from a scan, visual disabilities, etc.), we believe it is justifiable to continue to deny access to the print so that we can keep ETAS active. 

An explanation of HathiTrust and Emergency Temporary Access Service (ETAS): 

HathiTrust ( is a project founded in 2008 by the libraries of the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) and the University of California system. It serves as the repository for university-owned copies of library collections digitized in a number of projects, most notably the mass-digitization Google Books Project, of which all BTAA libraries are partners, and the Open Content Alliance, a joint project of the Internet Archive and Microsoft. As of 2020, HathiTrust has 169 college and research library partners from around the world, and holds 17.3 million digitized volumes. Approximately 39% of these, or 6.7 million volumes, are in the public domain, which means that their term of copyright has expired, and they may be freely viewed by anyone in the world. 22% of the UNL print collection is represented in the public domain subset of HathiTrust, and authenticated UNL users can both view and download PDF copies of these works.

As the pandemic took hold and libraries began to close, HathiTrust activated Emergency Temporary Access Service (ETAS) for U.S. members who were able to demonstrate that they had ceased to provide normal access to their print collections.

With ETAS activated at UNL, electronic access has been increased by 20.57%, so that now 49.94% of our print collections are accessible in full text via HathiTrust. Access is for a renewable 60-minute period, but PDF download is not permitted. We continue to also offer our robust digitize-on-demand services, primarily for journal articles, book chapters, or other excerpts needed for classroom use or research purposes.

Since its activation in early April, UNL users have logged approximately 350 hour-long sessions with ETAS titles, with use increasing significantly since July 1.

Adjust our library spaces for social distancing guidelines and population density: 

November 24, 2020 Update: Love Library seating was adjusted to meet Lincoln's updated directed health measures.

In addition to prioritizing electronic access to collections and limit physical access to books and other materials, we have updated library spaces to meet university and local requirements for proper social distancing and population density. Seating has been reduced by an average of 56% across our libraries to maintain 6 feet of distance between individuals. 

In normal times, libraries are among the densest spaces on campus, with Love Library enjoying more than 10,000 visits per week. On many days, most of the seating in Love and other facilities is at capacity. Competition for seating is sometimes so intense that we have had requests from students to make all library seating reservation-only, including for carrels and other individual seats. 

Limit library access to NCard holders and by appointment for non-NCard holders:

With reduction in seating, we expect intense competition for the seats that remain. Our Libraries do not have the technical means or staff capacity to enforce limiting access to an overall number of simultaneous library visitors. Because of this, our Libraries will be open to NCard access. However, we will provide access to non-UNL users by appointment only, with the expectation that those requesting appointments have a need that can only be met in person at UNL Libraries: primarily to access Archives & Special Collections, use subscription electronic resources on site, or to consult or meet with a Libraries faculty or staff member. 

The Love Library complex has card-swipe access to limit access to NCard holders. For other library locations, the UNL-only policy will be on the honor system. Community borrowers will be able to request and pick up non-ETAS materials by appointment, subject to the same restrictions outlined above. 

We hope the paged-only access to collections will also help decrease density. 

Although we take seriously our commitment to support the research needs of the citizens of the state, in light of the current challenges we believe this approach is the best way to balance safety with access.

Additional considerations informing Libraries policies and operations for 2020-2021 academic year:

Since our closure in late March, 2020, the UNL Libraries has continued to provide robust services via our electronic ebook and online journal subscriptions; Zoom and phone-based research consultations and teaching engagements with Libraries faculty; and phone, email, and chat-based reference and research help. In fact, with expanded online hours and staffing,and more prominent promotion on our websites, the chat-based AskUs service has enjoyed a large increase in use.

The Libraries relies heavily on student workers to maintain operations, and is facing the dual challenge of slow progress with student hiring (possibly exacerbated by an overall smaller-than-normal student worker pool), and scheduling complexities arising from our commitment to honor libraries faculty and staff requests for accommodation or alternative work arrangements. We hope to increase student worker capacity in the fall semester in order to improve the turn-around time of digitized and electronic requests.

To maximize safety for our front-line personnel, plexiglass barriers and floor signs reminding users of the six-foot distancing requirement have been installed. Campus custodial partners are prepared to increase cleaning visits to our public spaces. Hand sanitizer, sanitizing spray, and wipes are readily available, although we rely on users to remember to wipe chair seats, chair arms, and keyboards before and after each use. While our supplies last, we will provide disposable masks at all libraries.

Although we hope UNL's messaging and social norming around the face covering policy make disposable masks and reminders unnecessary, we will remind users to keep their masks on. We hope to spare our front-line staff confrontations with visitors who are unwilling to comply, but have escalation plans that will involve reporting violations of the policy when necessary. Unless visitors are endangering safety in other ways, or causing a disturbance or threatening staff or users, we will not call campus police for violations of the face covering policy.

We understand the impact these decisions may have on collections access, and to you as instructors, researchers, and students. The Libraries faculty, staff, and librarians remain fully committed to providing you with the resources and services to meet your needs as instructors, researchers, and students.