Cambridge University Libraries' roadmap for recovery, 2021

Cambridge University Libraries' roadmap for recovery, 2021

A year on from when we first closed the physical libraries in response to the pandemic, we look forward to Easter term and beyond at the University of Cambridge. Our roadmap for recovery outlines our plans to transition out of Lockdown 3 - providing it is safe to do so - over the next 6 months.

Double rainbow over the UL Tower

It is one year one year since the University closed the physical libraries in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. These have been twelve months that have challenged us all.

Our constant priority has been to maintain the best possible access to collections and support for library users, whilst keeping our users and our staff safe. We have adapted and continually reviewed our services in response to the changing circumstances and restrictions of the year. More resources than ever are available online, and we have established Covid-secure services at physical sites.

This is an occasion to recognise the innovation and hard work of CUL staff, and the resilience and adaptability of our community of library users: thank you for your patience and understanding.

It will be some time before we are living ‘beyond the pandemic’, but the UK Government’s document, COVID-19 Response - Spring 2021, highlights ‘not before’ dates, which are steps on the road to recovery. Cambridge University Libraries are now looking forward with hope to Easter Term and beyond.  

This roadmap sets out how we plan to transition out of Lockdown 3– providing it is safe to do so – over the next six months.   

Daffodils outside the University Library

Essential support for students in lockdown  

The legal framework governing the third national lockdown allows universities to provide access to essential facilities, including study spaces and libraries. On 22 February the Department for Education revised its guidelines on the opening of libraries and specialist collections to emphasise the importance of such support for students remaining at and returning to their universities.

Throughout the third lockdown, Cambridge University Libraries have provided online services and support in parallel with zero-contact services. We have now begun to phase back in access to physical services and collections, following Covid-secure protocols around hand hygiene, social distancing and face-coverings. 

Our goal for the University Library and Faculty and Department Libraries is to return, by Easter Term, to service levels similar to those in Michaelmas Term 2020. 

Our library services and the ways we deliver them have changed

We are more digital than before  

We have significantly increased the level of electronic resources available and transferred information skills and other guidance online. Our approach continues to be more hybrid - digital and physical - than before the pandemic. 

We have reshaped our spaces

The requirement for social distancing may continue for some time. How we use space for library users and library staff will continue to change as needs adapt to ensure we can be Covid-secure for all. 

Library user typing on laptop
Library staff member at Reader Services Desk

We remain committed to the principles that have governed decision-making and planning throughout the pandemic.

With the understanding that the safety of library staff and library users is paramount, we aim to:

  • provide the best service possible, providing it is safe to do so.
  • continue to expand and enhance online and remote access to services and resources to benefit all library users, wherever they are based.
  • provide controlled Covid-secure access to physical services, collections and study space when it is safe to do so.
  • support all library users, but reserve the option to prioritise services for current staff and students of the University of Cambridge, subject to restrictions and capacity - particularly during the exam period of Easter Term.

Our planning is shaped by key dates in the UK Government roadmap

  • Not before 8 March – some students (with practical course elements) can apply to their College to return to Cambridge. A travel window will allow students in Cambridge to return to their out-of-term address for the vacation.  
  • Not before 12 April – the government hopes to be in a position to allow retail and some other services, including public and national libraries, to return to controlled opening.
  • Not before 17 May – the government hopes museums and galleries can reopen under Covid-secure controls. This may include the reopening of Milstein Exhibition Centre at the UL, providing it is safe to do so.
  • Not before 21 June - the government hopes to be in a position to remove all legal limits on social contact though social distancing and other precautions may continue.

Our recovery road map:
what we aim to achieve in readiness for the academic year 2021-22

This plan is dependent on the national situation. It is subject to change, and will be reviewed at each stage.

North Reading Room Corridor
Student reading from laptop
Student reading from book in English Faculty Library
Hand taking book off library shelf
Illustration of geranium in a rare book display
Library users reading in the Main Reading Room
Student reading from laptop
Student reading from book in English Faculty Library
Hand taking book off library shelf
Illustration of geranium in a rare book display
Library users reading in the Main Reading Room

Phase 0: Baseline for Lockdown 3

  • Maximise online and remote services.
  • Maintain a core of Zero-Contact Services at the UL and the Faculty and Departmental (FDL) sites.
  • Prepare for Phase 1.

Phase 1: Controlled reopening (Stage 1)

By 8 March

  • First additional study space made available to students. 
  • Aim to open 2-3 hubs including combination of 2 UL reading rooms & FDL sites.

Phase 2: Controlled reopening (Stage 2)

8 March – 27 April

  • Phased reopening of FDLs for study space / Browse & Borrow ready for Easter Term.
  • Prepare to reintroduce Browse & Borrow at the UL.

Phase 3: Controlled reopening (Stage 3)

Late April – end of June

  • Exhibition Centre at UL reopens with social distancing measures.
  • Browse & Borrow relaunched at the UL.
  • Gradual phasing back in of access for external readers subject to levels of student demand.

Phase 4: Readiness for the new academic year

Late June – September

  • Goal for physical access to libraries to be fully reinstated, subject to social distancing requirements.
  • ‘Beyond the pandemic’ service changes implemented, including agreed levels of service levels for Click & Collect and Scan & Deliver. 

Library services
in Easter Term 2021

March-June (phases 2-3 of recovery)

A phased programme of controlled reopening of physical spaces has already begun in readiness for Easter Term, informed by local site risk-assessments and by factors relating to individual faculties and departments.

Study space bookings for current students are now available for the University Library, Seeley LibraryEnglish Faculty Library and the Moore Library. The Medical, Veterinary and Engineering Libraries are also available to students who are members of those departments. Bookings to consult items in the UL’s Special Collections Reading Room are also available. 

Find current information about services in our libraries on the Using the library pages of the University Library website.

Our goal is to phase back services at similar levels to those in Michaelmas Term 2020 by the start of Easter Term. By 27 April, the UL and Faculty and Department Libraries aim to provide a blend of online, remote and Covid-secure in-person services, such as:

  • controlled access to physical libraries via booking processes to ensure safe-occupancy.
  • controlled access to the physical collection via a combination of services appropriate to each site, e.g. Click & Collect, Scan & Deliver, Browse & Borrow. 
  • continued access to online and remote services.

We will continue to balance online and physical services. Whilst more students are likely to be back in Cambridge, some will continue studying remotely, and our hybrid provision of services will reflect this to support everyone.

It is likely that University catering outlets will be limited in Easter term. The Tea Room at the UL is closed, and we hope to increase the availability of ‘pop up’ catering outside the UL. We will update readers as planning progresses.  

Some spaces will look different. The Scan & Deliver Team is now based in the UL’s West Room, and new arrangements will be in place for items previously consulted there.

Our wider reader community

We continue to keep under regular review the needs of readers who are not current students or members of staff at the University of Cambridge. During the pandemic, we are working at a reduced capacity and also operating within strict building controls which limit occupancy to manage social distancing and ventilation controls. This means we have to prioritise our services for current staff and students at the University.

We hope to begin phasing in access for external users gradually in the approach to 21 June. We will keep this under review – whilst it is possible that all restrictions on access may be lifted, social distancing requirements may still be in place and we will need to make decisions based on the levels of demand from current students facing exams.   

We want to welcome all our readers back and support them as fully as possible when it is safe to do.

There is still a way to go before our libraries can operate without Covid-19 restrictions, but we look forward with confidence to a successful and hopeful recovery, and to a time when we can welcome back our whole community of library users.

Dr Jessica Gardner University Librarian, on behalf of Cambridge University Libraries Gold and Silver Recovery Teams

Images of library interiors by @AlicetheCamera for Cambridge University Libraries