As in other parts of society, the pandemic has been challenging on both a professional and personal level and has affected University library staff in a number of ways. In France and the UK, the public understanding and political reaction to the coronavirus pandemic started in mid to late March 2020. On 11 March, the World Health Organisation classified COVID-19 as a pandemic. In France, visits to retirement homes were forbidden. On 12 March, all French nurseries, schools and universities were closed, and on 13 March, all non-essential public places. Although on 15 March the first round of city council elections was controversially maintained, on 16 March President Emmanuel Macron banned all non-essential travel and announced a mandatory home confinement – which was eventually extended until 11 May. At the beginning of June, cafés and restaurants were allowed to reopen and the travel ban of 100 km was lifted; later in June, leisure centres and schools reopened, as well as travel with non-EU countries from 1 July. From 24 July, face coverings became compulsory in all public indoor spaces. Later in the autumn and winter 2020-2021, with new peaks of infections, more sanitary measures were reinstated, including curfews (as well as the compulsory, but much derided, ‘Autorisation de sortie’ outing forms) and closure of restaurants and museums. Since July 2021, a Health pass (also controversial, and implying full vaccination, a negative test of, or a certificate of recovery from Covid) is required to attend venues of over 50 people.
In the UK, after initial advice against non-essential travel and attending leisure venues, on 23 March 2020 schools were closed and Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a stay-at-home order, banning social gatherings, and restricting non-essential travel and outdoor activity. At Cambridge University Library, most people working in our Collections and Academic Liaison department started working from home on 23 March 2020; a few members of staff decided to go on furlough. Some relaxation of the lockdown happened in England on 10 May, when those who could not work from home were advised to go to work, and outdoor exercise was not restricted anymore. In June, some classes reopened in primary schools. From 8 June, a 14-days self-isolation was required for travellers entering England from abroad, which lasted until 2 July, when this was relaxed for a large number of countries (the quarantine was suddenly re-established for travellers returning from France from 15 August). The wearing of face coverings was only required on public transport from 15 June, and in indoor shops and public spaces from 24 July. In England, with a new wave of infections, a three-tier framework was introduced in the autumn, then a second lockdown took place in November 2020, and a third one from January to March 2021. With an increased number of vaccinations, a gradual reopening took place until the month July, despite the development of the new Delta variant.
While the library was closed in the spring of 2020, print books were not accessible to readers anymore, and there was a huge emphasis on electronic resources, with additional resources made available for the purchase of large anglophone ebook packages, notably EBSCO Ebook Academic Collection and Proquest Academic Complete (see for example the bibliography of e-resources on Black Lives Matter and decolonisation in the Francophone world), but it also meant some cuts to the budgets for foreign languages acquisitions. A number of publishers (including French language Classiques Garnier, Brepols, Cairn, Droz…) helpfully opened up for free their databases and ebooks or ejournals collections, as a temporary measure, because of the lockdown. A major development in French ebooks acquisitions was the creation of the Amalivre ebooks online platform – long awaited, it was finally released in May 2021!
Working from home also enabled us to work on different cataloguing projects. At the end of June and beginning of July 2020, some University Library staff went back into the building (with new social distancing procedures), and new zero-contact services were introduced: Click and collect, for readers to order and borrow books; and Scan and Deliver of articles and parts of print books which were sent by email as digital files. In August 2020, readers were able to Book a visit and consult non-borrowable material, and the Ask a curator service was opened for enquiries regarding Special collections. Collections and Academic Liaison staff only resumed coming back to work in the building from August onwards and then took part in the Print Operations Recovery, with streamlined workflows for processing and cataloguing print books, especially readers’ requests. In September 2020, faculty libraries also started to reopen.
From November 2020, the second lockdown and third lockdown in England drastically reduced the number of Collections and Academic Liaison staff allowed to work in the department, a situation which lasted until May 2021. During that time, I had a baby girl and was on maternity leave, just after having trained (remotely) a new French assistant, with the help of my colleagues! From May onwards, more staff and readers were able to come back into the buildings, including to consult Rare books and Manuscripts; the Ghost Words: Reading the past exhibition on palimpsest manuscripts finally opened in the Milstein centre. From mid-September 2021, it has no longer been necessary for readers to book a place before visiting the University Library (apart from those using Special collections). There are now more readers in the building, which had been extremely quiet, but the footpath at the beginning of this new academic year is still quite reduced compared to previous years. We are also looking forward to the forthcoming display of 1870-71 Franco-Prussian caricatures on the first floor of the University Library. As for the Collections and Academic Liaison department, the rules on its occupancy level have been relaxed, and more people are now expected to come into the library to work, especially as some reader services such as late duties and Saturday duties have now resumed, though we still currently expect to continue to work in a hybrid way, partially from the office and partially from home…
As is to be expected, the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown led to a number of creative, analytic or polemic French language publications (see the new Library of Congress Subject Heading ‘COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020’).
In France, the introduction of the ‘Pass Sanitaire’ is one of the latest rules which has led to social and political protests and demonstrations.
Acquisitions for the French collections (some on order) include so far:
- Personal testimonies
- the diary Sine die : chronique du confinement (19 mars-12 mai 2020) / Éric Chevillard; dessins de François Ayroles, L’Arbre vengeur, 2021 (C206.d.6483)
- Covid-19, témoignages de Guinée : le livre au service de la lutte contre la Covid-19 / Kaba Diakité, Sansy, L’Harmattan, 2020 (C217.c.7453)
- La vague : l’épidémie vue du terrain / Piarroux, Renaud, CNRS, 2020 (C217.c.7298)
- Tracts de crise : un virus et des hommes, 18 mars-11 mai 2020, Gallimard, 2020 (C206.d.7770)
- the graphic novel Au coeur de la vague / Chappatte, Les Arènes, 2020 (Prix franceinfo de la BD 2021, on order)
- Artistic and literary works produced during the lockdown
- Soukhos: Heng Long Leather / Raphaël Barontini, RVB Books, 2020 (S950.a.202.181);
- Les murs du confinement : street art et Covid-19 / Marie Christian et Cyrille Benhamou, Omniscience, 2020 (S950.e.202.2)
- or the poetry collection by André Velter Séduire l’univers / avec sept tracés sonores de Jean Schwarz; précédé de À contre-peur avec quatre ciels de Marie-Dominique Kessler, Gallimard, 2021 (C206.d.6728)
- Philosophical and psychological reflexions on the pandemic
- Jean-Luc Nancy, Un trop humain virus, Bayard, 2020 (C206.d.7660)
- Michel Onfray, La vengeance du pangolin : penser le virus, Robert Laffont, 2020 (C217.c.7297)
- Vulnérables : une philosophie du risque / Alain Renaut et Geoffroy Lauvau, PUF, 2021 (C206.d.6953)
- Lucien Ayissi, Méditations philosophiques d’un confiné sur coronavirus suivies de Dix méditations supplémentaires, L’Harmattan, 2021 (C217.c.4338)
- Bruno Latour, Où suis-je? leçons du confinement à l’usage des terrestres, La Découverte, 2021 (C206.d.7828)
- Jean-Claude Kaufmann, C’est fatigant, la liberté … une leçon de la crise, Éditions de l’Observatoire, 2021 (C217.c.4410)
- Works on the social aspects and consequences of the sanitary crisis
- Covid : anatomie d’une crise sanitaire / Jean-Dominique Michel, Humensciences, 2020 (C217.c.7688)
- Le monde d’aujourd’hui : les sciences sociales au temps de la Covid, dir. M. Lazar, G. Plantin et X. Ragot, Presses de la Fondation nationale des sciences politiques, 2020 (C206.d.7868)
- Personne ne bouge : une enquête sur le confinement du printemps 2020 sous la direction de Nicolas Mariot, Pierre Mercklé et Anton Perdoncin, Univ. Grenoble-Alpes, 2021 (C217.c.794)
- La société malade / Jean-Pierre Le Goff, Stock, 2021 (C217.c.4169)
- L’explosion des inégalités: classes, genre et générations face à la crise sanitaire sous la direction de Anne Lambert et Joanie Cayouette-Remblière, Éditions de l’Aube, 2021 (C217.c.3445)
- Sorbonnavirus : regards sur la crise du coronavirus, dir. Pierre-Marie Chauvin et Annick Clement, Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2021 (C206.d.7771)
- Writings on its political implications
- La grande confusion : comment l’extrême-droite gagne la bataille des idées / Philippe Corcuff, Textuel, 2020 (C217.c.5331)
- Analyses of its effects on the urban landscape and environment
- La résurrection des villes face à la Covid-19 : les opportunités de la revitalisation et la régénération urbaines sous la direction de Marie-Christine Steckel-Assouère, L’Harmattan, 2021, Amalivre ebook
- Guy Burgel, Ville et Covid : un mariage de raisons, Karthala, 2021 (C217.c.7835)