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The role of libraries in distance learning during COVID-19

The role of libraries in distance learning during COVID-19 As a form of education, distance learning currently shows great promise and the role of online libraries in delivering off-campus information services increases. This paper presents a comparative analysis of measures undertaken by traditional academic libraries in China and Italy in response to pandemic restrictions on educational operations during the lockdown period. The study utilized a specially developed questionnaire, carried out through an online survey, as a means of collecting data from library users (students and teachers). The study population includes 102 random library patrons, including 64 students and 38 teachers who were using services of academic libraries in China at the time. Through comparison with other studies, the quarantine responses of Chinese libraries were identified. The results of the study show that COVID-19 responses of libraries in China went in a direction similar to those in Italy, but the final decisions varied because of different levels of technological development. This knowledge may be used by libraries to identify areas for improvement. The results show that Chinese libraries were more effective in overcoming quar- antine restrictions than those in Italy. The overwhelming majority of respondents reported that they had positive experience learning remotely and would not mindifdistancelearningprograms continuetofunction after the pandemic is over. Keywords distance learning, information services, online libraries, China, pandemic. Submitted: 3 February, 2021; Accepted: 3 February, 2021. Meanwhile, the emergence and development of Introduction both distance education and online libraries have been Traditionally, libraries hold print and handwritten uneven across countries. The mid-1990s saw the rise materials (Bachynska and Salata 2016; Rozkolupa of digital libraries and distance learning in the US and et al. 2019), but in the course of time, new ways of UK, but it will take years before the same happens in storing information emerged and libraries trans- post-Soviet countries. Even today, distance learning is formed accordingly. Today, libraries are witnessing mistreated either as a secondary method of studying, and participating in the transition to distance learning, or as an extramural form of education. The sudden a form of education that has been around for some outbreak of COVID-19 forced many countries to shift time now. The first generation of distance education to distance learning, despite many fears and preju- refers to correspondence training. It emerged in the dices. It becomes obvious that the future of education 18th century thanks to the creation of a regular and lies in distance learning and this creates a need affordable postal service and remains in demand to transform the role of traditional libraries. today. Distance learning is a form of education where students and teachers are physically separated and communicate with each other by using various tech- Corresponding author: nologies (Ministry of Education of the Russian Fed- Jing Zhou, Library, Ankang University, Ankang City, Shaanxi eration 2020). Digital libraries in this context take a Province, China. central role (Lande and Barkova 2013). Email: jingzhou78@yahoo.com 228 Information Development 38(2) The first victim of COVID-19 was China. Therefore, This technical infrastructure can help patrons under- it is relevant to study how China managed to redefine stand the integrity of scholarly publications and find its education system within the shortest timeframe information in an unregulated and unmediated digital possible and how libraries were used to their potential environment (Tait et al. 2016). in this process. The reading habits of students evolve: many prefer This study seeks to explore how academic libraries to access information using digital technology and satisfy the needs of their users in unexpected situa- priorities for libraries transform in line with the pro- tions, such as the COVID-19-induced transition to cess of change (Tait et al. 2016). The challenges faced online education. The aim of the study is to examine by modern libraries revolve around the need to reach how academic libraries are coping with new demands out to a wider audience and deliver participatory ser- for educational materials during the pandemic and vices that allow communicating and engaging with a identify new opportunities for libraries offered by reading community in dialogue (Tait et al. 2016). At digital technology. The objectives of the study are this point, libraries become creative spaces where stu- (1) to review literature on the role of academic dents can develop products and services. One way to libraries in education, library services in distance enhance user engagement is gamification, a tool that learning, and responses of libraries to pandemic uses different elements of game design such as com- restrictions; (2) to compare COVID-19 responses of petitions, activities, and creativity in non-game con- libraries in China and Italy, the first country to suffer texts (Tait et al. 2016). It is argued that games can from the COVID-19 outbreak after China; and (3) to stimulate higher-order thinking, be motivational, outline the prospects for further research in the field enhance learning, and aid the illustration of interrela- of online library services. This paper deals with tra- tionships between decision-making and outcomes, but ditional libraries in the era of digitalization. Before the negative consequences of the ill-thought out gami- the pandemic, libraries were utilizing less digital tech- fication initiatives should not be excluded (Tait et al. nologies and for fewer reasons. With the unexpected 2016). lockdown due to COVID-19, they were forced to At present, some public and academic libraries adapt to keep afloat, satisfy the needs of patrons, and may not have the equipment to accomplish digitaliza- ensure continued learning during the pandemic. tion, whereas organizational and cultural barriers aggravate this problem (Tammaro 2020). Another concern is that these libraries offer resources that are Literature review often outdated and have no academic value (Nabush- First and foremost, it should be noted that moderniza- awo et al. 2016). The coronavirus pandemic has tion of academic libraries took place before the uncovered these problems and accelerated the digital COVID-19 pandemic. The leading role in this process transition of educational institutions and libraries. belongs to digital technology (Tait et al. 2016), which Libraries’ response to the pandemic in China was is often viewed as a disruptive force in the library rapid (China Agricultural University Library 2020). sector. Nevertheless, modern libraries move from the More than 94% of quarantined libraries released traditional way of collecting and storing information COVID-19-related information through their web- towards becoming spaces of social learning where sites to reduce the risk of infection and educate visi- knowledge is created and shared (Lande and Barkova tors about the preventive measures (Guo et al. 2020). 2013; Smirnova 2020; Tait et al. 2016). The other 6% were unprepared for the challenge (Guo According to the Research Councils UK (RCUK), et al., 2020). Most libraries have switched to working the efforts to de-institutionalize information failed to online, providing remote access to free electronic take enough account of the fact that libraries have resources and support services (China Agricultural evolved continually (Tait et al. 2016). Digital University Library 2020). Print materials have been advances have opened up new opportunities for converted into digital formats (Guo et al. 2020). As a librarians to create new roles and new ways of deli- result, libraries continued to support universities even vering library services (Huwiler 2016). One of those in the midst of the pandemic (Sichuan University opportunities is the possibility of creating a single Library 2020; Tongji University Library 2020; information architecture and knowledge organization Yunnan University Library 2020). structure that facilitate easy access and retrieval from COVID-19 is not the first pandemic case in China. online tools (Library of Beihang University 2020). In 2003, a respiratory virus called severe acute Zhou: The role of libraries in distance learning during COVID-19 229 respiratory syndrome (SARS) hit, and many Chinese quality of library staff and limited funding led to the researchers examined library services in response to situation where Italian libraries had not enough equip- the health crisis (Guo et al. 2020). At that time, public ment to move onto the web (Caselli 2020a, 2020b). libraries were closed but continued to provide neces- Thus, they have had to learn how to handle the emer- sary services, facilitate communication, and inform gency (Caselli 2020a, 2020b; Cognigni 2020) and the public about the situation (Guo et al. 2020; Tonini rethink their relationship with communities in a short 2020). Based on this experience, libraries were rec- space of time (Tammaro 2020). The first reaction of ommended to raise emergency information services to libraries was to deliver traditional services, such as a strategic level (Tonini 2020) to provide accurate and rental of print materials, interlibrary loan, cataloging, timely information, prevent fear and panic, and fulfill and reference services. The loan period has been additional roles, such as institutional and community extended and in some cases, the loan has been deliv- supporters, internal planners, government partners, ered to the home. Online registration to the library educators, organizers of information communities, was facilitated and document delivery improved and more (Guo et al. 2020). At present, libraries seek (Solimine 2020; Tammaro 2020). Thus, the pandemic to meet user needs for user-friendly learning in Italy has accelerated the digital transformation of resources. For this, libraries are actively engaging libraries (Arnetoli 2020; Asta 2020). The libraries with resource providers to carefully collect and orga- began to offer e-books, events, exhibitions, and train- nize high-quality electronic resources (University ing programs (Tammaro 2020), introducing a wider Library 2020), although the proportion of libraries audience to an extraordinary amount of resources that use remote-access channels does not exceed characterizing the Italian cultural heritage: from art 34% (Guo et al. 2020). history to archeology, from virtual exhibitions to At the same time, 80% of academic libraries pro- musical concerts and theatrical performances vide multimedia academic resources, such as educa- (Guiducci et al. 2020). tion courses, lectures by famous teachers, academic Also, Italian libraries have demonstrated their reports, examination resources, and vocational train- importance as institutional supporters during the pan- ing, helping teachers and students perform self- demic. For example, the libraries have promoted improvement through online learning (Guo et al. online courses, such as gymnastics initiatives and 2020). Interestingly, some libraries continued to pro- courses on cooking (Cognigni 2020; Monti 2020; vide print materials services during the pandemic. To Morriello et al. 2020; Tammaro 2020). The emer- avoid infection, these libraries implemented a non- gency has made more evident problems such as job contact delivery method and organized librarians to insecurity, chronic scarcity of funds, the lack of pro- send books to the door of the person who has ordered fessionally trained staff, lack of legislation and poli- some (Guo et al. 2020). Hence, libraries played the cies, and lack of vision (Valenza 2020). But the role of social media platforms in disseminating infor- biggest challenge was the lack of digital infrastruc- mation and maintaining morale during the pandemic ture, the lack of devices for accessing resources, and (Guo et al. 2020). The emergency response of Chinese the lack of digital competencies (Baldi 2020). The libraries has become a benchmark for academic lack of opportunities to communicate and interact libraries around the world (Guo et al. 2020). The aca- with communities became apparent. Another obstacle demic libraries worldwide are recommended to adopt to digital transformation was copyright (Tammaro emergency plans to be able to carry out in-library 2020). In general, the COVID-19 emergency showed safety management, out-of-library disaster relief work the need for a digital library transformation strategy, (Zhengzhou University Library 2020a, 2020b), and for a new digital paradigm, and for the study of digital optimization of library services in unexpected changes in the public perception of libraries (Tam- situations (Guo et al. 2020; Owusu-Ansah et al. 2019; maro 2020). This study seeks to examine the role of South China University of Technology Library 2020; libraries in distance learning in response to COVID- Wuhan University of Technology Library 2020a, 19. The objectives of the study are to determine how 2020b). libraries have transformed to support educators and Italy was the first country to suffer from the COVID-19 outbreak after China. However, unlike students learning at distance during COVID-19 isola- libraries in China, Italian libraries were not ready to tion and to illuminate the new opportunities related to respond (Ponzani and Maiello 2020). The insufficient COVID-19 that libraries may have. 230 Information Development 38(2) Table 1. Comparative representation of changes in the work mode of libraries in China and Italy during COVID-19 Library changes Challenges and responses China Italy Negative Library buildings closed þþ Lack of qualified library staff – þ Lack of access to print materials – þ Use of the Internet is limited – þ Insufficient amount of print materials digitalized þþ Organization of the work tied to the workflow of the printed book – þ Copyright hinders the digitalization of textbooks þþ Positive Delivery of normal library services is guaranteed þþ Use of creativity in the organization of work þþ Implementation of interlibrary loan þþ Non-contact delivery and quarantine of paper-based materials þþ Increased access to digital resources þþ Promotion of online content (ebooks, exhibitions, tutorials, events, concerts) þþ Release of Covid-related information þþ Launching of online educational courses þþ Enhanced communication with patrons þþ Development of new digital paradigms for libraries þþ Materials and Methods sample embraces all categories of academic library users, it may be considered as representative. At the Materials same time, it should be emphasized that the sample This paper presents a comparative study of responses size does not guarantee that it is representative. There- of academic libraries in China and Italy to the fore, the results of survey analysis obtained during COVID-19 pandemic. The correspondence between this study provide a complete picture of changes have library changes was established through the review swept across academic libraries in China during the of two surveys that illustrate the impact of COVID- pandemic. 19 on libraries in China (Guo et al. 2020) and Italy The analysis of statistical data was done by using (Tammaro 2020). The results are displayed in Table 1. the Student’s t-test and Pearson’s correlation coeffi- In addition to that, this study discusses results from a cient. For this, an online calculator was used. survey of 102 library patrons, including 64 students aged 18-36 years old and 38 teachers aged 32-75 years old. There was no regard to gender differences. Study design The results of the survey were compared with those from the survey of 137 Chinese and 70 Italian librar- The study was carried out through several stages. ians (Guo et al. 2020; Tammaro 2020) using the Pear- First, the prerequisites, context, directions, and chal- son’s correlation coefficient. lenges of library transformation were determined. The comparative analysis revealed similarities and differ- ences between transformation initiatives undertaken Methods by libraries in China and Italy. Second, a question- The study uses two research methods: comparative naire was developed to obtain the perception of and survey. The survey method involves a specially library services among academic library patrons in developed semi-structured questionnaire with ques- China. For this study, a random sample of 102 aca- tion regarding the quality of online services provided demic library patrons (64 students and 38 teachers) by academic libraries and the attitude of patrons who switched to remote learning in response to quar- toward them. During the comparison of responses of antine was recruited. Third, the information obtained academic libraries in China and Italy, the positive and was exposed to statistical processing and comparative negative tendencies were identified. analysis. The results were converted to tabular and The sample of 64 students and 38 teachers were graphic formats. selected by using simple random sampling. Since this Zhou: The role of libraries in distance learning during COVID-19 231 Results and Discussion paper-based ancient books (Bachynska and Salata 2016), the Chinese government also looks towards In order to determine the role academic libraries in online library services. China and Italy play in distance learning and how they The Internet access was a barrier to public engage- struggle through pandemic, the comparative analysis ment. Note that Internet services in China are more of their work modes was conducted. The results sug- available than in Italy thanks to differences in national gest that Chinese and Italian libraries have taken a mentality and government policy. Hence, the second similar path to overcome the pandemic crisis, but the response of Italian libraries after closure was to guar- extent of changes varied due to different technologi- antee traditional services (Arnetoli 2020; Asta 2020; cal background (Arnetoli 2020; Asta 2020; Guo et al. Caselli 2020a, 2020b; Cognigni 2020). As a result, 2020; Sichuan University Library 2020; South China patrons got their print materials delivered to their University of Technology Library 2020; Tait et al. doors and interlibrary loans allowed students to find 2020). Nevertheless, the general trends can be useful non-available literature in other libraries. In China, for identifying the promising areas of library work in the priority has been to increase free access to online modern conditions. Table 1 presents the most impor- resources throughnetworking(Guoetal. 2020; tant library changes in response to quarantine. As can Library of Beihang University 2020). Many Italian be seen in Table 1, libraries in China, which COVID- libraries failed to support students in remote learning 19 caught by surprise, turned out to be more prepared due to the lack of qualified personnel (Morriello et al. for digital transformation both technologically and 2020; Tammaro 2020). In Italy, older employees organizationally than those in Italy that saw the crisis clinging to their jobs lack the technology competence coming. of younger generation, while in China, the job com- The first reaction to COVID-19 in both countries petition is fierce, forcing everyone to constantly was to close down library buildings, especially since improve their skills and meet modern requirements. the virus was detected in the overwhelming majority Perhaps, this may be the reason why China was more of them (Guo et al. 2020). Because this safety mea- effective than Italy in copying with the pandemic. sure was compulsory, it became necessary to ensure A common and global problem that both countries that information needs of library service seekers faced on their way towards distance education was the would be met. In China, the shutdown of library insufficient number of digitized educational materials buildings did not entail the shutdown of library ser- (Guo et al. 2020; Huwiler 2016; Lande and Barkova vices (China Agricultural University Library 2020). 2013; Library of Beihang University 2020; Nabush- The libraries found a safe way to deliver what they awo et al. 2016). An unexpected obstacle to digitali- had to offer and the library staff was qualified enough zation of textbooks was copyright. This requires a to harness digital technologies (South China Univer- change in law, since issues around digitalized sources sity of Technology Library 2020; Tongji University and copyright remain unresolved. Noteworthy, the Library 2020; University Library 2020). This facili- public in both countries was enthusiastic about the tated the rapid transition to new modes of work. In provision of new digital content, such as online particular, many libraries launched an interlibrary courses, virtual exhibitions, concerts and other events. loan service and made their resources available online However, while Chinese libraries paid more attention (South China University of Technology Library 2020; to online training courses (China Agricultural Univer- Tongji University Library 2020). Some libraries even sity Library 2020; Guo et al. 2020), Italian libraries offered online training courses for students in a broad focused on practical experiences and educational range of fields (Guo et al. 2020; Library of Beihang entertainment (Cognigni 2020; Tonini 2020). University 2020). Although libraries play a vital role The pandemic has changed libraries for better in in education in both China and Italy, the reasons both countries examined: the overall technology behind this vary: in China, the education system deals infrastructure has improved and libraries offer with disconnected information and libraries received expanded services, including wireless Internet. How- the status of strategic resource, whereas in Italy, the ever, Italy still has many issues to deal with. First and traditional education system heavily relies on print foremost, many Italian libraries historically offer only books (Bachynska and Salata 2016; Solimine 2020; paper-based materials, which led to the complete clo- Tait et al. 2016; Tammaro 2020). Although China sure of some libraries and termination of technology possesses some excellent imperial libraries that store illiterate staff members. Other libraries made use of 232 Information Development 38(2) volunteer services to become digital (Bruni 2020). they had positive learning experience at distance and Other obstacles were the insufficient online access no difficulty using online libraries. However, many in remote areas and insufficient digital literacy of the still had preference for traditional offline learning. population (Tammaro 2020). In general, the benefits While the learning space preferences of teachers can of online work turned out to be so tangible for be associated with their age, conservative thinking libraries in China that a question arose whether the habits, and technology inertia, those of students are libraries would be able to return to traditional opera- somewhat unexpected. Chinese students visit social tions after the quarantine is over and whether it was networks on a regular basis, prefer reading an e- even worth returning. The results of the patron survey book over a printed one, and feel positive about online (Table 2) revealed more insights into the work of learning. Still, 35.9% of the students reported that academic libraries in China during COVID-19 education in the classroom setting was more prefer- isolation. able. When questioned about their reasons for this For better clarity, tabular data is converted into preference, students explained that in class they can charts. Figure 1 below shows respondents’ perception engage in lively communication with peers and teach- of distance education in general and Figure 2 shows ers, discuss various issues, and immediately find how they felt about learning remotely. As it can be answers to certain questions. seen, the results are somewhat different. At the same time, more than half of the students Although the majority of respondents reported that preferred distance learning because online classes their experience of distance learning was positive, not have been short of distractions and have provided the everyone is ready to switch to the online form of feelings of confidence and relaxedness. In class, stu- education; many prefer traditional classroom ses- dents have to speak in front of a live audience, which sions, as evidenced by data in Figure 3. can be awkward and cause the sense of fear. With Nevertheless, both teachers and students see dis- online learning, this is not the case. The study thus tance learning as a promising area (Figure 4) and shows that the most promising forms of library work libraries as a crucial component of distance education are those that deal with the psychological attributes of (Figure 5) and self-learning (Figure 6). patrons. This relationship is not part of this study, but In general, libraries in China were able to ade- it would be interesting to have a closer look at the quately meet patron needs at lockdown by providing psychological aspect of library work in the future as necessary (Figure 7) and special services (Figure 8). well as to determine the proportion of extroverts and Although the range of library services expanded, a introverts among those who prefer learning online and few of the respondents surveyed were not aware that offline. In regards to teachers, they were more libraries have launched new services. The reasons restrained in giving estimates, but their overall behind this may be both subjective (seldom library impression of distance learning was rather positive visits) and objective (the lack or insufficient availabil- and they stressed the importance of libraries as stra- ity of information). Considering that respondents tegic sources of information. Be that as it may, the were teachers and students who normally go to transition to distance learning has entailed growth in libraries for educational materials, the lack of aware- library usage, especially among students. It can be ness in this case is most likely associated with the lack assumed that the lack of access to other educational of relevant information. Although most libraries in resources, such as visual aids and laboratory equip- China reacted quickly enough to the emergency, ment, and limited social contacts made libraries one about 6% failed to respond properly (Guo et al. of the leading providers of necessary learning 2020). Thus, a small percentage of patrons found materials. themselves in a situation where the access to neces- In China, online libraries are anything but a new sary materials was limited. Therefore, libraries should thing. Students and teachers in China are literate com- pay more attention to how information services are puter users with free access to the Internet. It is note- organized. worthy that quarantine has facilitated the increase in The survey questionnaire was designed to collect the use of library services, but teachers and students both factual (the presence/absence of certain services) were primarily concerned about the up-to-date infor- and subjective (perception of distance learning ser- mation on COVID-19 and preventive measures vices) data, yet the survey was rather subjective. The adopted by the libraries. Both categories of respon- overwhelming majority of respondents reported that dents were equally interested in reference services. It Zhou: The role of libraries in distance learning during COVID-19 233 Table 2. The results of post-pandemic library patron survey Teachers Students t-value (tcr¼1.973, Correlation Question N%N% a¼0.05) P coefficient Do you find online library services convenient? yes 32 84.2 59 92.2 56.57 <0.05 1.000 no 7 18.4 5 7.8 74.95 <0.05 have no online access –– –– 0.00 ¼1.00 have unstable Internet connection –– –– 0.00 ¼1.00 How often did you use library services during quarantine? more than usual 24 63.2 48 75.0 83.44 <0.05 1.000 less than usual 3 7.9 2 3.1 33.94 <0.05 as usual 11 28.9 14 21.9 49.50 <0.05 Did your library provide necessary services during quarantine? yes 32 84.2 59 922 56.57 <0.05 0.875 no 3 7.9 1 1.6 44.55 <0.05 not sure 3 7.9 4 6.2 12.02 <0.05 Does your library provide special services in response to pandemic? yes 32 84.2 59 92.2 56.57 <0.05 0.500 no 2 5.3 2 3.1 15.56 <0.05 not sure 4 10.5 3 4.7 41.01 <0.05 Which of the following library services did you use during quarantine? information services through WeChat 26 68.4 57 89.1 95.46 <0.05 0.772 COVID-19-related information services 31 81.2 52 81.3 0.71 ¼0.48 access to library resources through CARSI 24 63.2 22 34.4 203.65 <0.05 access to databases through other remote access 9 23.7 18 28.1 31.11 <0.05 channels instructions on network library services 32 84.2 59 92.2 56.57 <0.05 free educational content 32 84.2 59 92.2 56.57 <0.05 online course platforms 11 28.9 17 26.6 16.26 <0.05 multimedia academic resources (lectures, tests, online 24 63.2 47 73.4 78.49 <0.05 training courses) free ebooks 11 28.9 38 59.4 215.67 <0.05 reference services 31 81.2 52 81.3 0.71 ¼0.48 researcher support services 16 42.1 4 6.3 253.14 <0.05 non-contact delivery of print materials 17 44.7 15 23.4 150.61 <0.05 distance learning support services 26 68.4 31 48.4 141.42 <0.05 off-campus digital resource services 24 63.2 58 90.6 193.75 <0.05 interlibrary loan 16 42.1 24 37.5 32.53 <0.05 How do you feel about distance learning as a form of education? positive 16 42.1 61 95.3 376.18 <0.05 1.000 negative –– –– 0.00 ¼1.00 not sure 22 57.8 3 4.7 134.35 <0.05 Where do you prefer to study/work? in the classroom setting 16 42.1 23 35.9 43.84 <0.05 -0.500 from home 10 26.3 36 56.3 67.88 <0.05 no preferences 12 31.6 5 7.8 168.29 <0.05 How would you describe your remote learning experience? positive 32 84.2 52 81.3 20.51 <0.05 1.000 negative 2 5.3 3 4.7 4.24 <0.05 not sure 4 10.5 9 14.1 25.46 <0.05 (continued) 234 Information Development 38(2) Table 2. (continued) Teachers Students t-value (tcr¼1.973, Correlation Question N%N% a¼0.05) P coefficient Distance learning is a promising area that needs further development fully agree 12 31.6 53 82.8 362.04 <0.05 0.400 rather agree 9 23.7 8 12.5 79.20 <0.05 not sure 17 44.7 3 4.7 282.84 <0.05 disagree –– –– 0.00 ¼1.00 Libraries play a critical role in distance learning fully agree 28 73.7 57 89.1 108.89 <0.05 0.800 rather agree 5 13.2 3 4.7 60.10 <0.05 not sure 3 7.9 4 6.2 12.02 <0.05 disagree 2 5.3 – – 37.38 <0.05 The pandemic cause libraries to innovate agree 27 71.1 54 84.4 94.05 <0.05 1.000 disagree 2 5.3 3 4.7 4.27 <0.05 not sure 9 23.7 7 10.9 90.51 <0.05 Transition of libraries to new modes of work suggests their strategic importance as sources of information agree 31 81.6 46 71.9 68.59 <0.05 1.000 disagree –– –– 0.00 ¼1.0 not sure 7 18.4 18 28.1 68.59 <0.05 Total 38 100 64 100 Figure 1. Respondents’ perception of distance education Figure 3. Respondents’ preferences for learning should come as no surprise that students concentrated on multimedia resources and ebooks, while teachers sought researcher support services and access to cita- tion databases. It is worth noting that students were more actively using WeChat to receive library ser- vices and teachers were more likely to have their library materials delivered to them. This can be explained by the fact that older people have tradi- tional reading habits and/or lack digital skills (Mehta and Wang 2020). The results of the study show that teachers searched library resources to find materials Figure 2. Respondents’ perception of the distance learning experience that would help them hold virtual classes and students Zhou: The role of libraries in distance learning during COVID-19 235 Figure 4. The proportion of respondents who said that Figure 7. The proportion of respondents who noticed the distance learning is a promising area delivery of necessary services by libraries Figure 8. The proportion of respondents who noticed the Figure 5. The proportion of respondents who responded delivery of special services by libraries that libraries play a crucial role in distance learning issue requires deeper exploration in order to under- stand how popular and effective those courses are and what challenges they pose. At the same time, libraries used remote access channels opened by some data- bases and interactive technology solutions to enhance communication with patrons. These changes made library services more accessible and attractive to patrons. The previous survey (Tammaro 2020) concentrated directly on academic libraries and this study dealt with the perception of patrons. It should be noted that overall, the results of this study are consistent with similar works, that is, library staff members and Figure 6. The proportion of respondents who responded patrons have a similar impression of COVID- that libraries are of strategic importance as sources of information induced changes in libraries skills (Mehta and Wang 2020; Cognigni 2020; Monti 2020; Morriello et al. looked out for libraries with 24/7 access to off- 2020). This suggests that libraries in China work hard campus digital resources. Despite a demand for free to meet patron needs. The libraries understand the educational content and multimedia academic vital role of information resources in education and resources, not all libraries provided access to online make sure that technical infrastructure and the quality learning platforms and online training courses offered of staff meet a high standard. An important factor that by the Ministry of Education (Tammaro 2020). This facilitated a rapid response of Chinese libraries to the 236 Information Development 38(2) emergency was the far-sighted state policy that distance learning. The difference between preferences assigned special status to libraries after the first inci- of teachers and students can be explained by different dent and created an opportunity for technological mindsets. Perhaps, teachers and students both need development. Yet, Chinese libraries need to rethink more time to re-shape their views of education. This their procedures for delivering current service infor- conclusion is supported by the fact that more than mation. This problem aside, libraries may also face 80% of students and teachers appreciated the experi- challenges associated with technology inertia and ence they gained when learning and teaching remo- unwillingness of library staff to implement innova- tely during quarantine. tions, as shown in Italy. These issues require further In regards to distance education library support, stu- study, so that it is possible to differentiate prospects dents’ responses correlate with those of teachers. The for distance education library services and predict overwhelming majority of respondents in both groups potential risks. emphasized the emergence of special services The results of the survey among 102 patrons is (Table 2), which have brought the library closer to consistent with the survey of 137 academic libraries students and encouraged them to use library services conducted in China during the quarantine period (Guo more often than before quarantine. The library usage et al. 2020). It was found that Chinese libraries were rate among teachers did not change significantly rather effective in dealing with the quarantine restric- (Table 2), most likely because teachers had already tions and supporting distance learning, despite the developed a specific research habit by the time of lock- unexpectancy of the pandemic. This was largely due down, whereas students had less interest in reading to a past emergency experience. In Italy, the forced educational literature and preferred to spend time else- transition to distance education revealed many obsta- where. Several respondents, both students and teachers, cles and bottlenecks that had been overcome earlier in reported that they have sought library services less China (Tammaro 2020), among which include insuf- often than before quarantine and have not been ficient technology infrastructure, reliance on paper- informed about current services. These respondents based materials, digital incompetence of library staff, were most likely non-regular library visitors and there- and insufficient connectivity in remote areas. How- fore had little interest in what libraries had to offer ever, looking at China’s experience, Italian libraries during quarantine. Other teachers and students empha- quickly and creatively adapted to quarantine mea- sized that libraries were crucial to distance learning. sures. They have improved the infrastructure and launched new services (such as non-contact delivery Study limitations of books and interlibrary loan) to overcome the lim- The limitations of the study involve differences in edu- itations of paper-based operations. Thus, it can be said cation and health care systems between China and that the pandemic had a positive impact on Italian Italy, the uneven use of technologies across regions, libraries, facilitating the development of new digital and stereotypes associated with the role of libraries in paradigms and promoting online content. education. The study population is limited to patrons at Chinese patrons, however, turned out to be no less academic libraries in China. Future research should conservative than Italian patrons. In China, where focus on other types of libraries and other countries. everything is computerized, the attitude towards dis- Also, the presented data on Italian libraries were tance learning services was not unambiguous, espe- gleaned from the existing sources, rather than gathered cially among educators. While almost all students separately. Articles that were chosen for the purpose of described their own distance learning experience as comparison provide information about measures that positive (95.3%) and saw distance education as a pro- have been undertaken by academic libraries at the mising area (82.8%), teachers demonstrated greater beginning of lockdown, while the survey was launched conservatism, caution and uncertainty (57.8%) when several months after the first wave of lockdown restric- answering the questions. Many teachers (42.1%) and tions when they were no longer stringent. students (35.9%) preferred traditional education to distance education, but the reasons for such a prefer- Ethical statement ence were not the same. The teachers favored tradi- tional education for high demonstrativeness of All respondents were informed of the aim of the sur- practical classes and students for lively communica- vey, the voluntary nature of their participation, the tion. This does not mean that teachers are against confidentiality and anonymity of records. Zhou: The role of libraries in distance learning during COVID-19 237 Conclusions References Arnetoli C (2020) L’esperienza del coordinamento regio- Information technology and online libraries play an nale DigiToscana MLOL ai tempi del Coronavirus. increasing role in creating creative spaces for distance Bibelot 26(1): 1–2. learning. The results of this study indicate that online Asta G (2020) Regione Toscana: la cultura in soccorsodel- libraries are a priority source of information in the l’emergenza Covid. Bibelot 26(1): 1–5. context of non-contact education. The experience of Bachynska NA and Salata GV (2016) National Libraries of China and Italy examined in this study shows that the the World: A Textbook. Kyiv: Medinform. COVID-19 pandemic has unveiled the need for digital Baldi G (2020) Le biblioteche al tempo del Coronavirus. transformation strategies and programs for libraries Almanacco Bibliografico 54: 1–2. that will solve the major library-related problems, Bruni S (2020) La formazione professionale al tempo del namely chronic scarcity of funds, the lack of profes- Covid-19. Bibelot 26(1): 1–3. sionally trained staff, lack of legislation and policies, Caselli D (2020a) Bibliotecari al tempo del Coronavirus, lack of digital infrastructure, etc. Dispensatrice di storie. Available at: https://ladispensa tricedistorie.blogspot.com/2020/03/i-bibliotecari-al- The comparison of libraries in China and Italy indi- cates the similarity of directions in which their tempo-del-coronavirus.html. (accessed 22 November 2020). COVID-19 responses were going, but given the dif- Caselli D (2020b) Bibliotecari in quarantena. Bibelot 26(1): ference in levels of technological development, the 1–4. final decisions varied. The general trends in library China Agricultural University Library (2020) Work pro- transformation, as shown here, can help identify the gram during the COVID-19 pandemic. Available at: promising areas of library work in support of distance http://www.lib.cau.edu.cn/readnews.php?id¼773 education programs. The results of this study show (accessed 22 November 2020). that distance learning faces obstacles, such as a con- Cognigni C (2020) Emergenza Covid-19: la risposta delle servative view on education among students and biblioteche pubbliche italiane. Available at: https:// teachers and distrust towards innovations. One of the agcult.it/a/17968/2020-05-01/patrimonio-quo-vadis- solutions may be the acquisition of positive experi- emergenza-covid-19-la-risposta-delle-biblioteche-pub ences of learning at distance and using online bliche-italiane (accessed 22 November 2020). libraries. Hence, libraries should pay attention to the Guiducci C, Lambroni G and Storti C (2020) Biblioteche- quality of digital services and post time-sensitive pubblichestatali al tempo del Coronavirus. Bibelot information critical to learning routine. 26(1): 1–6. Guo Y, Yang Z, Yang Z, Liu YQ, Bielefield A and Tharp G The results of this study may be useful in enhan- (2020) The provision of patron services in Chinese aca- cing the role libraries play in distance education. demic libraries responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Future research will benefit from creating a model for Library Hi Tech, in press. the supervision and administration of distance learn- Huwiler AG (2016) Library services for distance students: ing library services with due regard to the potential opportunities and challenges library services for dis- emergency risks. The future research may also focus tance students. Journal of Library & Information Ser- on developing a competency improvement program vices in Distance Learning 9(4): 275–288. for distance learning librarians. Another interesting Lande DV and Barkova OV (2013) An electronic library as topic is the psychology of library patrons, the under- an environment of adaptive aggregation of information. standing of which will enable libraries to improve The Library Bulletin 2: 12–17. digital accessibility and attractiveness. Library of Beihang University (2020) Library electronic resources use help continued 3: online education plat- form. 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Available at: https://www.lavorocul Owusu-Ansah CM, Rodrigues ADS and Walt TBVD turale.org/le-biblioteche-e-il-virus/ (accessed 22 (2019) Integrating digital libraries into distance educa- November 2020). tion: A review of models, roles, and strategies. The Wuhan University of Technology Library (2020a) Module Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education 20(2): hospital: warm your heart with the fragrance of books. 89–104. Available at: https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/2ca7y Ponzani V and Maiello R (2020) Covid 19 tutela della ZOmZ8P842wyi6C7JwWuhan. (accessed 22 November salute in biblioteca. AIB Web. Available at: https:// 2020). www.aib.it/attivita/2020/80687-covid-19-and-health- Wuhan University of Technology Library (2020b) Starting protection-in-libraries/ (accessed 22 November 2020). point database Epidemic prevention knowledge prizes. Rozkolupa NI, Bogush TI, Laguta LV, Kravchenko SM and Available at: https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/ Adamenko MP (2019) Modern public library from A to uQu62URCTj-717tdsBQR4w. (accessed 22 November Z: a reference guide. Kyiv: Yaroslav Mudryi National 2020). Law University. Yunnan University Library (2020) Fight against COVID- Sichuan University Library (2020) Fighting COVID-19 19 theme bookcase. Available at: https://mp.weixin.qq. Weapons: free resources and OA resources. Available com/s/jlbcSrsHf-ZtjgYUiQe8nw. (accessed 22 Novem- at: https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/P2AGXxk3XyWha- ber 2020). T24Ybi1A. (accessed 22 November 2020). Zhengzhou University Library (2020a) COVID-19 Smirnova N (2020) E-government and social media in information, online answers. Available at: https:// Ukraine: global challenges for legal regulations. Lex mp.weixin.qq.com/s/MHUS_8pF_MfhoontekcqGw. Portus 1: 69–84 (accessed 22 November 2020). Solimine G (2020) Il mondo del libro dopo ilCovid 19. Zhengzhou University Library (2020b) Notice about the Treccani Magazine “Cultura”. Available at: http:// opening of the Chinese theme bookcase. Available at: www.treccani.it/magazine/atlante/cultura/Il_mondo_ https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/VQxR4nHGD01TUp- del_libro_dopo_il_COVID-19.html (accessed 22 UDMw4-A. (accessed 22 November 2020). November 2020). South China University of Technology Library (2020) Do not go out, gain knowledge! Summary of open access About the author academic resources for coronavirus at home and abroad. Available at: https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/hA0bGfA Jing Zhou graduated from Southwest University. Curently zUc_nooAMQIDQqQ. (accessed 22 November 2020). she is a Librarian in the Ankang University Library, Tait E, Martzoukou K and Reid P (2016) Libraries for Ankang City, Shaanxi Province, China. Her research inter- the future: the role of IT utilities in the transforma- est include traditional academic libraries, libraries in tion of academic libraries. Palgrave Communications China, and information services. Now she is expanding a 2(1): 1–9. topic about online libraries and educational opportunities Tammaro AM (2020) COVID 19 and Libraries in Italy. during the pandemic restrictions. Email: jingzhou78@ International Information & Library Review 52(3): 216–220. yahoo.com http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Information Development Pubmed Central

The role of libraries in distance learning during COVID-19

Information Development , Volume 38 (2) – Jun 1, 2022

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Pubmed Central
Copyright
© The Author(s) 2021
ISSN
0266-6669
eISSN
1741-6469
DOI
10.1177/02666669211001502
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Abstract

As a form of education, distance learning currently shows great promise and the role of online libraries in delivering off-campus information services increases. This paper presents a comparative analysis of measures undertaken by traditional academic libraries in China and Italy in response to pandemic restrictions on educational operations during the lockdown period. The study utilized a specially developed questionnaire, carried out through an online survey, as a means of collecting data from library users (students and teachers). The study population includes 102 random library patrons, including 64 students and 38 teachers who were using services of academic libraries in China at the time. Through comparison with other studies, the quarantine responses of Chinese libraries were identified. The results of the study show that COVID-19 responses of libraries in China went in a direction similar to those in Italy, but the final decisions varied because of different levels of technological development. This knowledge may be used by libraries to identify areas for improvement. The results show that Chinese libraries were more effective in overcoming quar- antine restrictions than those in Italy. The overwhelming majority of respondents reported that they had positive experience learning remotely and would not mindifdistancelearningprograms continuetofunction after the pandemic is over. Keywords distance learning, information services, online libraries, China, pandemic. Submitted: 3 February, 2021; Accepted: 3 February, 2021. Meanwhile, the emergence and development of Introduction both distance education and online libraries have been Traditionally, libraries hold print and handwritten uneven across countries. The mid-1990s saw the rise materials (Bachynska and Salata 2016; Rozkolupa of digital libraries and distance learning in the US and et al. 2019), but in the course of time, new ways of UK, but it will take years before the same happens in storing information emerged and libraries trans- post-Soviet countries. Even today, distance learning is formed accordingly. Today, libraries are witnessing mistreated either as a secondary method of studying, and participating in the transition to distance learning, or as an extramural form of education. The sudden a form of education that has been around for some outbreak of COVID-19 forced many countries to shift time now. The first generation of distance education to distance learning, despite many fears and preju- refers to correspondence training. It emerged in the dices. It becomes obvious that the future of education 18th century thanks to the creation of a regular and lies in distance learning and this creates a need affordable postal service and remains in demand to transform the role of traditional libraries. today. Distance learning is a form of education where students and teachers are physically separated and communicate with each other by using various tech- Corresponding author: nologies (Ministry of Education of the Russian Fed- Jing Zhou, Library, Ankang University, Ankang City, Shaanxi eration 2020). Digital libraries in this context take a Province, China. central role (Lande and Barkova 2013). Email: jingzhou78@yahoo.com 228 Information Development 38(2) The first victim of COVID-19 was China. Therefore, This technical infrastructure can help patrons under- it is relevant to study how China managed to redefine stand the integrity of scholarly publications and find its education system within the shortest timeframe information in an unregulated and unmediated digital possible and how libraries were used to their potential environment (Tait et al. 2016). in this process. The reading habits of students evolve: many prefer This study seeks to explore how academic libraries to access information using digital technology and satisfy the needs of their users in unexpected situa- priorities for libraries transform in line with the pro- tions, such as the COVID-19-induced transition to cess of change (Tait et al. 2016). The challenges faced online education. The aim of the study is to examine by modern libraries revolve around the need to reach how academic libraries are coping with new demands out to a wider audience and deliver participatory ser- for educational materials during the pandemic and vices that allow communicating and engaging with a identify new opportunities for libraries offered by reading community in dialogue (Tait et al. 2016). At digital technology. The objectives of the study are this point, libraries become creative spaces where stu- (1) to review literature on the role of academic dents can develop products and services. One way to libraries in education, library services in distance enhance user engagement is gamification, a tool that learning, and responses of libraries to pandemic uses different elements of game design such as com- restrictions; (2) to compare COVID-19 responses of petitions, activities, and creativity in non-game con- libraries in China and Italy, the first country to suffer texts (Tait et al. 2016). It is argued that games can from the COVID-19 outbreak after China; and (3) to stimulate higher-order thinking, be motivational, outline the prospects for further research in the field enhance learning, and aid the illustration of interrela- of online library services. This paper deals with tra- tionships between decision-making and outcomes, but ditional libraries in the era of digitalization. Before the negative consequences of the ill-thought out gami- the pandemic, libraries were utilizing less digital tech- fication initiatives should not be excluded (Tait et al. nologies and for fewer reasons. With the unexpected 2016). lockdown due to COVID-19, they were forced to At present, some public and academic libraries adapt to keep afloat, satisfy the needs of patrons, and may not have the equipment to accomplish digitaliza- ensure continued learning during the pandemic. tion, whereas organizational and cultural barriers aggravate this problem (Tammaro 2020). Another concern is that these libraries offer resources that are Literature review often outdated and have no academic value (Nabush- First and foremost, it should be noted that moderniza- awo et al. 2016). The coronavirus pandemic has tion of academic libraries took place before the uncovered these problems and accelerated the digital COVID-19 pandemic. The leading role in this process transition of educational institutions and libraries. belongs to digital technology (Tait et al. 2016), which Libraries’ response to the pandemic in China was is often viewed as a disruptive force in the library rapid (China Agricultural University Library 2020). sector. Nevertheless, modern libraries move from the More than 94% of quarantined libraries released traditional way of collecting and storing information COVID-19-related information through their web- towards becoming spaces of social learning where sites to reduce the risk of infection and educate visi- knowledge is created and shared (Lande and Barkova tors about the preventive measures (Guo et al. 2020). 2013; Smirnova 2020; Tait et al. 2016). The other 6% were unprepared for the challenge (Guo According to the Research Councils UK (RCUK), et al., 2020). Most libraries have switched to working the efforts to de-institutionalize information failed to online, providing remote access to free electronic take enough account of the fact that libraries have resources and support services (China Agricultural evolved continually (Tait et al. 2016). Digital University Library 2020). Print materials have been advances have opened up new opportunities for converted into digital formats (Guo et al. 2020). As a librarians to create new roles and new ways of deli- result, libraries continued to support universities even vering library services (Huwiler 2016). One of those in the midst of the pandemic (Sichuan University opportunities is the possibility of creating a single Library 2020; Tongji University Library 2020; information architecture and knowledge organization Yunnan University Library 2020). structure that facilitate easy access and retrieval from COVID-19 is not the first pandemic case in China. online tools (Library of Beihang University 2020). In 2003, a respiratory virus called severe acute Zhou: The role of libraries in distance learning during COVID-19 229 respiratory syndrome (SARS) hit, and many Chinese quality of library staff and limited funding led to the researchers examined library services in response to situation where Italian libraries had not enough equip- the health crisis (Guo et al. 2020). At that time, public ment to move onto the web (Caselli 2020a, 2020b). libraries were closed but continued to provide neces- Thus, they have had to learn how to handle the emer- sary services, facilitate communication, and inform gency (Caselli 2020a, 2020b; Cognigni 2020) and the public about the situation (Guo et al. 2020; Tonini rethink their relationship with communities in a short 2020). Based on this experience, libraries were rec- space of time (Tammaro 2020). The first reaction of ommended to raise emergency information services to libraries was to deliver traditional services, such as a strategic level (Tonini 2020) to provide accurate and rental of print materials, interlibrary loan, cataloging, timely information, prevent fear and panic, and fulfill and reference services. The loan period has been additional roles, such as institutional and community extended and in some cases, the loan has been deliv- supporters, internal planners, government partners, ered to the home. Online registration to the library educators, organizers of information communities, was facilitated and document delivery improved and more (Guo et al. 2020). At present, libraries seek (Solimine 2020; Tammaro 2020). Thus, the pandemic to meet user needs for user-friendly learning in Italy has accelerated the digital transformation of resources. For this, libraries are actively engaging libraries (Arnetoli 2020; Asta 2020). The libraries with resource providers to carefully collect and orga- began to offer e-books, events, exhibitions, and train- nize high-quality electronic resources (University ing programs (Tammaro 2020), introducing a wider Library 2020), although the proportion of libraries audience to an extraordinary amount of resources that use remote-access channels does not exceed characterizing the Italian cultural heritage: from art 34% (Guo et al. 2020). history to archeology, from virtual exhibitions to At the same time, 80% of academic libraries pro- musical concerts and theatrical performances vide multimedia academic resources, such as educa- (Guiducci et al. 2020). tion courses, lectures by famous teachers, academic Also, Italian libraries have demonstrated their reports, examination resources, and vocational train- importance as institutional supporters during the pan- ing, helping teachers and students perform self- demic. For example, the libraries have promoted improvement through online learning (Guo et al. online courses, such as gymnastics initiatives and 2020). Interestingly, some libraries continued to pro- courses on cooking (Cognigni 2020; Monti 2020; vide print materials services during the pandemic. To Morriello et al. 2020; Tammaro 2020). The emer- avoid infection, these libraries implemented a non- gency has made more evident problems such as job contact delivery method and organized librarians to insecurity, chronic scarcity of funds, the lack of pro- send books to the door of the person who has ordered fessionally trained staff, lack of legislation and poli- some (Guo et al. 2020). Hence, libraries played the cies, and lack of vision (Valenza 2020). But the role of social media platforms in disseminating infor- biggest challenge was the lack of digital infrastruc- mation and maintaining morale during the pandemic ture, the lack of devices for accessing resources, and (Guo et al. 2020). The emergency response of Chinese the lack of digital competencies (Baldi 2020). The libraries has become a benchmark for academic lack of opportunities to communicate and interact libraries around the world (Guo et al. 2020). The aca- with communities became apparent. Another obstacle demic libraries worldwide are recommended to adopt to digital transformation was copyright (Tammaro emergency plans to be able to carry out in-library 2020). In general, the COVID-19 emergency showed safety management, out-of-library disaster relief work the need for a digital library transformation strategy, (Zhengzhou University Library 2020a, 2020b), and for a new digital paradigm, and for the study of digital optimization of library services in unexpected changes in the public perception of libraries (Tam- situations (Guo et al. 2020; Owusu-Ansah et al. 2019; maro 2020). This study seeks to examine the role of South China University of Technology Library 2020; libraries in distance learning in response to COVID- Wuhan University of Technology Library 2020a, 19. The objectives of the study are to determine how 2020b). libraries have transformed to support educators and Italy was the first country to suffer from the COVID-19 outbreak after China. However, unlike students learning at distance during COVID-19 isola- libraries in China, Italian libraries were not ready to tion and to illuminate the new opportunities related to respond (Ponzani and Maiello 2020). The insufficient COVID-19 that libraries may have. 230 Information Development 38(2) Table 1. Comparative representation of changes in the work mode of libraries in China and Italy during COVID-19 Library changes Challenges and responses China Italy Negative Library buildings closed þþ Lack of qualified library staff – þ Lack of access to print materials – þ Use of the Internet is limited – þ Insufficient amount of print materials digitalized þþ Organization of the work tied to the workflow of the printed book – þ Copyright hinders the digitalization of textbooks þþ Positive Delivery of normal library services is guaranteed þþ Use of creativity in the organization of work þþ Implementation of interlibrary loan þþ Non-contact delivery and quarantine of paper-based materials þþ Increased access to digital resources þþ Promotion of online content (ebooks, exhibitions, tutorials, events, concerts) þþ Release of Covid-related information þþ Launching of online educational courses þþ Enhanced communication with patrons þþ Development of new digital paradigms for libraries þþ Materials and Methods sample embraces all categories of academic library users, it may be considered as representative. At the Materials same time, it should be emphasized that the sample This paper presents a comparative study of responses size does not guarantee that it is representative. There- of academic libraries in China and Italy to the fore, the results of survey analysis obtained during COVID-19 pandemic. The correspondence between this study provide a complete picture of changes have library changes was established through the review swept across academic libraries in China during the of two surveys that illustrate the impact of COVID- pandemic. 19 on libraries in China (Guo et al. 2020) and Italy The analysis of statistical data was done by using (Tammaro 2020). The results are displayed in Table 1. the Student’s t-test and Pearson’s correlation coeffi- In addition to that, this study discusses results from a cient. For this, an online calculator was used. survey of 102 library patrons, including 64 students aged 18-36 years old and 38 teachers aged 32-75 years old. There was no regard to gender differences. Study design The results of the survey were compared with those from the survey of 137 Chinese and 70 Italian librar- The study was carried out through several stages. ians (Guo et al. 2020; Tammaro 2020) using the Pear- First, the prerequisites, context, directions, and chal- son’s correlation coefficient. lenges of library transformation were determined. The comparative analysis revealed similarities and differ- ences between transformation initiatives undertaken Methods by libraries in China and Italy. Second, a question- The study uses two research methods: comparative naire was developed to obtain the perception of and survey. The survey method involves a specially library services among academic library patrons in developed semi-structured questionnaire with ques- China. For this study, a random sample of 102 aca- tion regarding the quality of online services provided demic library patrons (64 students and 38 teachers) by academic libraries and the attitude of patrons who switched to remote learning in response to quar- toward them. During the comparison of responses of antine was recruited. Third, the information obtained academic libraries in China and Italy, the positive and was exposed to statistical processing and comparative negative tendencies were identified. analysis. The results were converted to tabular and The sample of 64 students and 38 teachers were graphic formats. selected by using simple random sampling. Since this Zhou: The role of libraries in distance learning during COVID-19 231 Results and Discussion paper-based ancient books (Bachynska and Salata 2016), the Chinese government also looks towards In order to determine the role academic libraries in online library services. China and Italy play in distance learning and how they The Internet access was a barrier to public engage- struggle through pandemic, the comparative analysis ment. Note that Internet services in China are more of their work modes was conducted. The results sug- available than in Italy thanks to differences in national gest that Chinese and Italian libraries have taken a mentality and government policy. Hence, the second similar path to overcome the pandemic crisis, but the response of Italian libraries after closure was to guar- extent of changes varied due to different technologi- antee traditional services (Arnetoli 2020; Asta 2020; cal background (Arnetoli 2020; Asta 2020; Guo et al. Caselli 2020a, 2020b; Cognigni 2020). As a result, 2020; Sichuan University Library 2020; South China patrons got their print materials delivered to their University of Technology Library 2020; Tait et al. doors and interlibrary loans allowed students to find 2020). Nevertheless, the general trends can be useful non-available literature in other libraries. In China, for identifying the promising areas of library work in the priority has been to increase free access to online modern conditions. Table 1 presents the most impor- resources throughnetworking(Guoetal. 2020; tant library changes in response to quarantine. As can Library of Beihang University 2020). Many Italian be seen in Table 1, libraries in China, which COVID- libraries failed to support students in remote learning 19 caught by surprise, turned out to be more prepared due to the lack of qualified personnel (Morriello et al. for digital transformation both technologically and 2020; Tammaro 2020). In Italy, older employees organizationally than those in Italy that saw the crisis clinging to their jobs lack the technology competence coming. of younger generation, while in China, the job com- The first reaction to COVID-19 in both countries petition is fierce, forcing everyone to constantly was to close down library buildings, especially since improve their skills and meet modern requirements. the virus was detected in the overwhelming majority Perhaps, this may be the reason why China was more of them (Guo et al. 2020). Because this safety mea- effective than Italy in copying with the pandemic. sure was compulsory, it became necessary to ensure A common and global problem that both countries that information needs of library service seekers faced on their way towards distance education was the would be met. In China, the shutdown of library insufficient number of digitized educational materials buildings did not entail the shutdown of library ser- (Guo et al. 2020; Huwiler 2016; Lande and Barkova vices (China Agricultural University Library 2020). 2013; Library of Beihang University 2020; Nabush- The libraries found a safe way to deliver what they awo et al. 2016). An unexpected obstacle to digitali- had to offer and the library staff was qualified enough zation of textbooks was copyright. This requires a to harness digital technologies (South China Univer- change in law, since issues around digitalized sources sity of Technology Library 2020; Tongji University and copyright remain unresolved. Noteworthy, the Library 2020; University Library 2020). This facili- public in both countries was enthusiastic about the tated the rapid transition to new modes of work. In provision of new digital content, such as online particular, many libraries launched an interlibrary courses, virtual exhibitions, concerts and other events. loan service and made their resources available online However, while Chinese libraries paid more attention (South China University of Technology Library 2020; to online training courses (China Agricultural Univer- Tongji University Library 2020). Some libraries even sity Library 2020; Guo et al. 2020), Italian libraries offered online training courses for students in a broad focused on practical experiences and educational range of fields (Guo et al. 2020; Library of Beihang entertainment (Cognigni 2020; Tonini 2020). University 2020). Although libraries play a vital role The pandemic has changed libraries for better in in education in both China and Italy, the reasons both countries examined: the overall technology behind this vary: in China, the education system deals infrastructure has improved and libraries offer with disconnected information and libraries received expanded services, including wireless Internet. How- the status of strategic resource, whereas in Italy, the ever, Italy still has many issues to deal with. First and traditional education system heavily relies on print foremost, many Italian libraries historically offer only books (Bachynska and Salata 2016; Solimine 2020; paper-based materials, which led to the complete clo- Tait et al. 2016; Tammaro 2020). Although China sure of some libraries and termination of technology possesses some excellent imperial libraries that store illiterate staff members. Other libraries made use of 232 Information Development 38(2) volunteer services to become digital (Bruni 2020). they had positive learning experience at distance and Other obstacles were the insufficient online access no difficulty using online libraries. However, many in remote areas and insufficient digital literacy of the still had preference for traditional offline learning. population (Tammaro 2020). In general, the benefits While the learning space preferences of teachers can of online work turned out to be so tangible for be associated with their age, conservative thinking libraries in China that a question arose whether the habits, and technology inertia, those of students are libraries would be able to return to traditional opera- somewhat unexpected. Chinese students visit social tions after the quarantine is over and whether it was networks on a regular basis, prefer reading an e- even worth returning. The results of the patron survey book over a printed one, and feel positive about online (Table 2) revealed more insights into the work of learning. Still, 35.9% of the students reported that academic libraries in China during COVID-19 education in the classroom setting was more prefer- isolation. able. When questioned about their reasons for this For better clarity, tabular data is converted into preference, students explained that in class they can charts. Figure 1 below shows respondents’ perception engage in lively communication with peers and teach- of distance education in general and Figure 2 shows ers, discuss various issues, and immediately find how they felt about learning remotely. As it can be answers to certain questions. seen, the results are somewhat different. At the same time, more than half of the students Although the majority of respondents reported that preferred distance learning because online classes their experience of distance learning was positive, not have been short of distractions and have provided the everyone is ready to switch to the online form of feelings of confidence and relaxedness. In class, stu- education; many prefer traditional classroom ses- dents have to speak in front of a live audience, which sions, as evidenced by data in Figure 3. can be awkward and cause the sense of fear. With Nevertheless, both teachers and students see dis- online learning, this is not the case. The study thus tance learning as a promising area (Figure 4) and shows that the most promising forms of library work libraries as a crucial component of distance education are those that deal with the psychological attributes of (Figure 5) and self-learning (Figure 6). patrons. This relationship is not part of this study, but In general, libraries in China were able to ade- it would be interesting to have a closer look at the quately meet patron needs at lockdown by providing psychological aspect of library work in the future as necessary (Figure 7) and special services (Figure 8). well as to determine the proportion of extroverts and Although the range of library services expanded, a introverts among those who prefer learning online and few of the respondents surveyed were not aware that offline. In regards to teachers, they were more libraries have launched new services. The reasons restrained in giving estimates, but their overall behind this may be both subjective (seldom library impression of distance learning was rather positive visits) and objective (the lack or insufficient availabil- and they stressed the importance of libraries as stra- ity of information). Considering that respondents tegic sources of information. Be that as it may, the were teachers and students who normally go to transition to distance learning has entailed growth in libraries for educational materials, the lack of aware- library usage, especially among students. It can be ness in this case is most likely associated with the lack assumed that the lack of access to other educational of relevant information. Although most libraries in resources, such as visual aids and laboratory equip- China reacted quickly enough to the emergency, ment, and limited social contacts made libraries one about 6% failed to respond properly (Guo et al. of the leading providers of necessary learning 2020). Thus, a small percentage of patrons found materials. themselves in a situation where the access to neces- In China, online libraries are anything but a new sary materials was limited. Therefore, libraries should thing. Students and teachers in China are literate com- pay more attention to how information services are puter users with free access to the Internet. It is note- organized. worthy that quarantine has facilitated the increase in The survey questionnaire was designed to collect the use of library services, but teachers and students both factual (the presence/absence of certain services) were primarily concerned about the up-to-date infor- and subjective (perception of distance learning ser- mation on COVID-19 and preventive measures vices) data, yet the survey was rather subjective. The adopted by the libraries. Both categories of respon- overwhelming majority of respondents reported that dents were equally interested in reference services. It Zhou: The role of libraries in distance learning during COVID-19 233 Table 2. The results of post-pandemic library patron survey Teachers Students t-value (tcr¼1.973, Correlation Question N%N% a¼0.05) P coefficient Do you find online library services convenient? yes 32 84.2 59 92.2 56.57 <0.05 1.000 no 7 18.4 5 7.8 74.95 <0.05 have no online access –– –– 0.00 ¼1.00 have unstable Internet connection –– –– 0.00 ¼1.00 How often did you use library services during quarantine? more than usual 24 63.2 48 75.0 83.44 <0.05 1.000 less than usual 3 7.9 2 3.1 33.94 <0.05 as usual 11 28.9 14 21.9 49.50 <0.05 Did your library provide necessary services during quarantine? yes 32 84.2 59 922 56.57 <0.05 0.875 no 3 7.9 1 1.6 44.55 <0.05 not sure 3 7.9 4 6.2 12.02 <0.05 Does your library provide special services in response to pandemic? yes 32 84.2 59 92.2 56.57 <0.05 0.500 no 2 5.3 2 3.1 15.56 <0.05 not sure 4 10.5 3 4.7 41.01 <0.05 Which of the following library services did you use during quarantine? information services through WeChat 26 68.4 57 89.1 95.46 <0.05 0.772 COVID-19-related information services 31 81.2 52 81.3 0.71 ¼0.48 access to library resources through CARSI 24 63.2 22 34.4 203.65 <0.05 access to databases through other remote access 9 23.7 18 28.1 31.11 <0.05 channels instructions on network library services 32 84.2 59 92.2 56.57 <0.05 free educational content 32 84.2 59 92.2 56.57 <0.05 online course platforms 11 28.9 17 26.6 16.26 <0.05 multimedia academic resources (lectures, tests, online 24 63.2 47 73.4 78.49 <0.05 training courses) free ebooks 11 28.9 38 59.4 215.67 <0.05 reference services 31 81.2 52 81.3 0.71 ¼0.48 researcher support services 16 42.1 4 6.3 253.14 <0.05 non-contact delivery of print materials 17 44.7 15 23.4 150.61 <0.05 distance learning support services 26 68.4 31 48.4 141.42 <0.05 off-campus digital resource services 24 63.2 58 90.6 193.75 <0.05 interlibrary loan 16 42.1 24 37.5 32.53 <0.05 How do you feel about distance learning as a form of education? positive 16 42.1 61 95.3 376.18 <0.05 1.000 negative –– –– 0.00 ¼1.00 not sure 22 57.8 3 4.7 134.35 <0.05 Where do you prefer to study/work? in the classroom setting 16 42.1 23 35.9 43.84 <0.05 -0.500 from home 10 26.3 36 56.3 67.88 <0.05 no preferences 12 31.6 5 7.8 168.29 <0.05 How would you describe your remote learning experience? positive 32 84.2 52 81.3 20.51 <0.05 1.000 negative 2 5.3 3 4.7 4.24 <0.05 not sure 4 10.5 9 14.1 25.46 <0.05 (continued) 234 Information Development 38(2) Table 2. (continued) Teachers Students t-value (tcr¼1.973, Correlation Question N%N% a¼0.05) P coefficient Distance learning is a promising area that needs further development fully agree 12 31.6 53 82.8 362.04 <0.05 0.400 rather agree 9 23.7 8 12.5 79.20 <0.05 not sure 17 44.7 3 4.7 282.84 <0.05 disagree –– –– 0.00 ¼1.00 Libraries play a critical role in distance learning fully agree 28 73.7 57 89.1 108.89 <0.05 0.800 rather agree 5 13.2 3 4.7 60.10 <0.05 not sure 3 7.9 4 6.2 12.02 <0.05 disagree 2 5.3 – – 37.38 <0.05 The pandemic cause libraries to innovate agree 27 71.1 54 84.4 94.05 <0.05 1.000 disagree 2 5.3 3 4.7 4.27 <0.05 not sure 9 23.7 7 10.9 90.51 <0.05 Transition of libraries to new modes of work suggests their strategic importance as sources of information agree 31 81.6 46 71.9 68.59 <0.05 1.000 disagree –– –– 0.00 ¼1.0 not sure 7 18.4 18 28.1 68.59 <0.05 Total 38 100 64 100 Figure 1. Respondents’ perception of distance education Figure 3. Respondents’ preferences for learning should come as no surprise that students concentrated on multimedia resources and ebooks, while teachers sought researcher support services and access to cita- tion databases. It is worth noting that students were more actively using WeChat to receive library ser- vices and teachers were more likely to have their library materials delivered to them. This can be explained by the fact that older people have tradi- tional reading habits and/or lack digital skills (Mehta and Wang 2020). The results of the study show that teachers searched library resources to find materials Figure 2. Respondents’ perception of the distance learning experience that would help them hold virtual classes and students Zhou: The role of libraries in distance learning during COVID-19 235 Figure 4. The proportion of respondents who said that Figure 7. The proportion of respondents who noticed the distance learning is a promising area delivery of necessary services by libraries Figure 8. The proportion of respondents who noticed the Figure 5. The proportion of respondents who responded delivery of special services by libraries that libraries play a crucial role in distance learning issue requires deeper exploration in order to under- stand how popular and effective those courses are and what challenges they pose. At the same time, libraries used remote access channels opened by some data- bases and interactive technology solutions to enhance communication with patrons. These changes made library services more accessible and attractive to patrons. The previous survey (Tammaro 2020) concentrated directly on academic libraries and this study dealt with the perception of patrons. It should be noted that overall, the results of this study are consistent with similar works, that is, library staff members and Figure 6. The proportion of respondents who responded patrons have a similar impression of COVID- that libraries are of strategic importance as sources of information induced changes in libraries skills (Mehta and Wang 2020; Cognigni 2020; Monti 2020; Morriello et al. looked out for libraries with 24/7 access to off- 2020). This suggests that libraries in China work hard campus digital resources. Despite a demand for free to meet patron needs. The libraries understand the educational content and multimedia academic vital role of information resources in education and resources, not all libraries provided access to online make sure that technical infrastructure and the quality learning platforms and online training courses offered of staff meet a high standard. An important factor that by the Ministry of Education (Tammaro 2020). This facilitated a rapid response of Chinese libraries to the 236 Information Development 38(2) emergency was the far-sighted state policy that distance learning. The difference between preferences assigned special status to libraries after the first inci- of teachers and students can be explained by different dent and created an opportunity for technological mindsets. Perhaps, teachers and students both need development. Yet, Chinese libraries need to rethink more time to re-shape their views of education. This their procedures for delivering current service infor- conclusion is supported by the fact that more than mation. This problem aside, libraries may also face 80% of students and teachers appreciated the experi- challenges associated with technology inertia and ence they gained when learning and teaching remo- unwillingness of library staff to implement innova- tely during quarantine. tions, as shown in Italy. These issues require further In regards to distance education library support, stu- study, so that it is possible to differentiate prospects dents’ responses correlate with those of teachers. The for distance education library services and predict overwhelming majority of respondents in both groups potential risks. emphasized the emergence of special services The results of the survey among 102 patrons is (Table 2), which have brought the library closer to consistent with the survey of 137 academic libraries students and encouraged them to use library services conducted in China during the quarantine period (Guo more often than before quarantine. The library usage et al. 2020). It was found that Chinese libraries were rate among teachers did not change significantly rather effective in dealing with the quarantine restric- (Table 2), most likely because teachers had already tions and supporting distance learning, despite the developed a specific research habit by the time of lock- unexpectancy of the pandemic. This was largely due down, whereas students had less interest in reading to a past emergency experience. In Italy, the forced educational literature and preferred to spend time else- transition to distance education revealed many obsta- where. Several respondents, both students and teachers, cles and bottlenecks that had been overcome earlier in reported that they have sought library services less China (Tammaro 2020), among which include insuf- often than before quarantine and have not been ficient technology infrastructure, reliance on paper- informed about current services. These respondents based materials, digital incompetence of library staff, were most likely non-regular library visitors and there- and insufficient connectivity in remote areas. How- fore had little interest in what libraries had to offer ever, looking at China’s experience, Italian libraries during quarantine. Other teachers and students empha- quickly and creatively adapted to quarantine mea- sized that libraries were crucial to distance learning. sures. They have improved the infrastructure and launched new services (such as non-contact delivery Study limitations of books and interlibrary loan) to overcome the lim- The limitations of the study involve differences in edu- itations of paper-based operations. Thus, it can be said cation and health care systems between China and that the pandemic had a positive impact on Italian Italy, the uneven use of technologies across regions, libraries, facilitating the development of new digital and stereotypes associated with the role of libraries in paradigms and promoting online content. education. The study population is limited to patrons at Chinese patrons, however, turned out to be no less academic libraries in China. Future research should conservative than Italian patrons. In China, where focus on other types of libraries and other countries. everything is computerized, the attitude towards dis- Also, the presented data on Italian libraries were tance learning services was not unambiguous, espe- gleaned from the existing sources, rather than gathered cially among educators. While almost all students separately. Articles that were chosen for the purpose of described their own distance learning experience as comparison provide information about measures that positive (95.3%) and saw distance education as a pro- have been undertaken by academic libraries at the mising area (82.8%), teachers demonstrated greater beginning of lockdown, while the survey was launched conservatism, caution and uncertainty (57.8%) when several months after the first wave of lockdown restric- answering the questions. Many teachers (42.1%) and tions when they were no longer stringent. students (35.9%) preferred traditional education to distance education, but the reasons for such a prefer- Ethical statement ence were not the same. The teachers favored tradi- tional education for high demonstrativeness of All respondents were informed of the aim of the sur- practical classes and students for lively communica- vey, the voluntary nature of their participation, the tion. This does not mean that teachers are against confidentiality and anonymity of records. Zhou: The role of libraries in distance learning during COVID-19 237 Conclusions References Arnetoli C (2020) L’esperienza del coordinamento regio- Information technology and online libraries play an nale DigiToscana MLOL ai tempi del Coronavirus. increasing role in creating creative spaces for distance Bibelot 26(1): 1–2. learning. 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Zhengzhou University Library (2020b) Notice about the Treccani Magazine “Cultura”. Available at: http:// opening of the Chinese theme bookcase. Available at: www.treccani.it/magazine/atlante/cultura/Il_mondo_ https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/VQxR4nHGD01TUp- del_libro_dopo_il_COVID-19.html (accessed 22 UDMw4-A. (accessed 22 November 2020). November 2020). South China University of Technology Library (2020) Do not go out, gain knowledge! Summary of open access About the author academic resources for coronavirus at home and abroad. Available at: https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/hA0bGfA Jing Zhou graduated from Southwest University. Curently zUc_nooAMQIDQqQ. (accessed 22 November 2020). she is a Librarian in the Ankang University Library, Tait E, Martzoukou K and Reid P (2016) Libraries for Ankang City, Shaanxi Province, China. Her research inter- the future: the role of IT utilities in the transforma- est include traditional academic libraries, libraries in tion of academic libraries. Palgrave Communications China, and information services. Now she is expanding a 2(1): 1–9. topic about online libraries and educational opportunities Tammaro AM (2020) COVID 19 and Libraries in Italy. during the pandemic restrictions. Email: jingzhou78@ International Information & Library Review 52(3): 216–220. yahoo.com

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Information DevelopmentPubmed Central

Published: Jun 1, 2022

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