Uwe Böttcher is Director of the Library at WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management. In an interview, he explains how he and his team have reacted to the restrictions imposed by the corona crisis and how work in the university has changed.
Mr. Böttcher, due to Corona, the services of the WHU library had to become mostly digital. What exactly did you have to digitalize now, and what had been digitalized already before?
With regard to the classic services – procurement and provision of specialist literature and data – little has changed for the library as a result of the Corona pandemic. As we have been working consistently for over 10 years to make our information services as digital as possible, the digital share of total turnover was already around 75-80% before the pandemic began.
For some time now, the library has also been handling a large part of its advisory service digitally in addition to its personal advice on site – by telephone, e-mail, remote video support, and with the help of a ticket system for managing requests.
However, all the work processes concerning physical media like printed books and magazines had to be adapted to the new situation: Due to the temporary prohibition of entry for students, the book lending and return service was switched to mail delivery, and a return box was set up for returning books on site during service hours. Books can now be ordered by e-mail. Wherever possible, we procure missing books as e-books at short notice. Besides, media procurement and training, which are both strongly bound to locations and objects, were adapted in such a way that they could also be partly handled in home office.
Due to these adaptations, all processes became somewhat slower overall but could still be maintained without restrictions. We assume that we will be able to reverse these changes over time. Overall, the pandemic has not yet caused any permanent changes in the library.
The library is not only a place of knowledge, but also of concentration and tranquility. Therefore, many students spend much time there preparing for their finals. What was the general reaction to the closure of the library?
We have hardly received any direct feedback from students regarding the closure of the reading room and the PC lab. This was probably due to the fact that many students had already left WHU and returned to their home towns and countries due to the sudden closure of the entire campus.
We hope, however, that we will be able to reopen the reading room and the PC-Lab in the coming autumn semester without too many restrictions. Both facilities are always highly appreciated and gladly used by students as places of joint learning.
The semester is over, all exams have been taken. How much do students use library services at the moment?
Our traditional as well as our alternative services were very well received and used by the students, especially during the exam phase. In the meantime, outgoing mail delivery of books has declined, so we have decided to maintain this service only until the beginning of the new semester.
Since June 8, the library has also been open to students again, so, currently, the conditions for the summer break are largely the same as in previous years. We assume that this is sufficient, but we are prepared to react flexibly and individually to special situations.
Current use of the library is largely restricted to WHU academic staff, which is typical for this season and due to the lecture-free period.
How did you prepare the library for reopening for students? Were there any particular concerns or problems concerning hygiene standards?
First of all, the library was never completely closed at any time, it was only not accessible for students due to general campus restrictions. Nevertheless, our on-site services continued to be used by doctoral students and WHU staff. In this respect, we had to implement the legally required measures early on, which at times changed every week, at least provisionally.
Over time, in cooperation with the Dean’s Office and the Facility Management, we have developed a plan that describes the library's measures ensuring compliance with hygiene standards. It is regularly adapted to the ever-changing requirements.
There were no noteworthy problems in the implementation of these measures, especially since cooperation with the other departments has been very positive and smooth.
How will literature consumption change with regard to digitalization after Corona?
Currently, I cannot identify any changes in media or data consumption due to Corona as the library was already being used digitally to a very high degree before the pandemic.
Nevertheless, we are always monitoring the usage behavior of our users very closely and are always adapting to their needs. Should there be any evidence of change in behavior in the future, we will adjust accordingly.
Notwithstanding this, we are currently preparing a number of new service offerings, especially in the area of research data management. However, we started these projects before the pandemic began and have pursued them very consistently. Corona has neither influenced this process nor changed its speed so far.
Read more about how other WHU departments managed the current situation: