MIT Libraries update service policy for fall

Overdue fines suspended so ‘no one should stress over returning library items right now,’ Fay wrote

MIT Libraries are adopting a phased plan for providing access to physical collections in the library for the fall term, while continuing to provide full access to MIT Libraries’ online resources, interlibrary borrowing of digital content, and librarian virtual services. According to the MIT Libraries webpage, services are limited to current MIT students, faculty, and staff.

The webpage states that students, faculty, and staff may request scanned digital copies of materials in MIT Libraries’ physical locations. Students can look up items using a quick search function on the MIT Libraries website and request digital copies of items “only available in print/hard copy.”

MIT Libraries Director of Communications Brigham Fay wrote in an email to The Tech that turnaround times for borrowing materials have ranged “from as little as a few hours to a few weeks.” Turnaround times depend on whether MIT Libraries can “purchase an e-copy of an item,” or “how quickly the supplier turns on access” to the item.

Additionally, if scans of physical items are requested, turnaround times depend on “where the item is located, the volume of requests, and the limited staffing” MIT Libraries has on campus under “safety protocols.”

MIT Libraries “had to completely redesign our workflows to adapt to these unusual circumstances,” Fay wrote, adding that the staff “have been incredibly flexible and dedicated to supporting the MIT community.”

“In the first three weeks of the service, the MIT community submitted approximately 400 requests for digital copies of items in general circulating collections,” Fay wrote. Additionally, Distinctive Collections has received “more than 110 requests so far from MIT users.”

MIT Libraries also began delivering and providing contactless pickup of physical items such as MIT-owned books and other media Sept. 28.

Individuals returning to campus can “return items at the book drop outside the entrance to Building 7.” Individuals who received items via campus mail may “save the envelopes and labels,” “reverse the label” containing the library address on the back, and drop the items in campus mail. However, Fay wrote that given the pandemic, “overdue fines have been suspended” and that “no one should stress over returning library items right now.”

Off-campus individuals can return items by mailing them to MIT Libraries. “If needed, you will be able to request one pre-paid shipping label per semester to mail items back to us,” Fay wrote, adding that further details will be provided “soon” on the MIT Libraries website.

According to its webpage, MIT Libraries provides a chat service operating 10 a.m.–5 p.m., responds to questions via email within one business day, and offers subject-specific help with materials for classes and research.

Fay wrote that borrowing textbooks is “a source of particular frustration to students, faculty, and librarians in a remote teaching environment.” Fay added that MIT Libraries staff “are ready to help MIT students and faculty navigate these challenges,” and have created an FAQ “about remote access to textbooks and other materials required for MIT classes.”

The FAQs state that many publishers, including Pearson, Cengage, and McGraw Hill, do not “make electronic copies of their textbooks available for libraries to purchase, regardless of price.” In cases where the Libraries cannot provide students an e-copy of a textbook, purchasing it is often the “fastest” or “only” solution. However, if cost is a concern, “financial support may be available” from Student Support Services or the Office of Graduate Education.

“MIT community members shouldn’t hesitate to ask us for assistance with accessing specific resources or finding alternatives,” Fay wrote.

MIT Libraries’ locations have remained closed since March 14 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

MIT Libraries’ Service Updates page will be updated throughout the year to reflect any changes in MIT Libraries’ services.