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Library Quarterly Report FY21 Q1: July-Sept 2020

A new chapter: Libraries Adapt to COVID-19


n months 5-7 of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the VDOT Research Library saw record highs and record lows in the use of library collections and services. We are seeing a lot of business, but it is not business as usual, including changes in how patrons communicate due to the ongoing prevalance of telework and limitations on access to typical office work spaces and administrative functions (particularly shipping and receiving).


Self-service use of databases (as measured in downloads) was 24% above our 5-year average this quarter, hitting a record of 4,151 and demonstrating the importance of online subscriptions to a virtual library. The Library's publicly accessible Web site saw record levels of usage as well, as measured by visits to pages, guides and FAQs, and site searches. We noticed an increase in general questions from the public (versus researchers) this quarter, which prompted us to increase FAQs related to common questions handled by other parts of VDOT.  Reference questions were a fraction of what they normally are and this quarter we completed no literature searches. Our average is around 5 per quarter.


Now that we are almost entirely virtual the library's Live Chat feature has emerged as an important mode of communication with patrons. Chat has been live since 2016 and like most other elements of the library's Web site, it is patron self-initiated, however, in the past our patrons have initiated chat with us infrequently. From January-September of 2019 we had 16 chats (an average of 2 chats a month), but this year we have had 118 chats, or an average of 13 a month. Since the library is not staffed on weekends that means we are getting as many as 5-6 chats some days. After hours chat is offline. Our site provides an online request form that routes questions into a dashboard for response later. Data indicates more patrons are interacting with the library's Web site overall, including our FAQs (we now have 100 publicly accessible FAQs). Analytics reveal a surprising 1,744 site searches and 533 FAQ views this quarter, both of which doubled over last year.


VDOT IT Procurement Delays Continue to Disrupt Library Functions
We continue to experience delays in procurement for routine renewals of subscription databases due to explainable disruptions in VDOT IT procurement. Last quarter we discovered some invoices were overdue as the pandemic started, and we remained "one step behind" in payments this quarter. As a result, more library staff time (particularly that of the ever-patient Gil Kenner) has been spent reassuring vendors they will eventually be paid and requesting extensions, but that strategy is becoming less effective. This quarter VDOT's subscription to ASTM Compass was turned off for lack of payment. VRTC procurement officers and administrators have been helpful during this frustrating time.

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