Highlights

Chula Revamps Its Libraries to Suit the New Normal, Focusing on Cleanliness, Safety and Equal Access


Chula librarians reveal Chula Library’s readiness to unveil its new look soon after being revamped to cope with the pandemic by migrating to online systems, installing a disinfection system, keeping books and spaces clean and adding a variety of services to provide universal and equal services to all users.


Many public places have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, and so have libraries that must adjust both the forms of service and their role in society.  For example, many libraries in foreign countries offer drive-thru library services, book delivery at home, as well as serve as disease testing stations, and so on.

In Thailand, the Thai Librarian Association recently held an online meeting to discuss how to cope with the current situation and the direction of the libraries in the future.  Asst. Prof. Dr. Songphan Choemprayong, Head of the Department of Library Science, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University discussed the problem of modifying libraries around the world to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asst. Prof. Dr. Songphan Choemprayong, Head of the Department of Library Science, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University
Asst. Prof. Dr. Songphan Choemprayong

“What is evident is the lack of information on how to manage services in times like this. Next, comes the lack of standards for managing service areas within the library, especially when considering the number of users in each cycle and maintaining distance between users within the library. Also, disinfecting books and materials with alcohol spray and UV light may cause damage to those reading materials.”

Asst. Prof. Dr. Songphan explained the solution of library management at this time saying that “the most likely solution would be a media or digital book service which is suitable for online services to reduce the risk of exposure and being near others within a confined space. But there are still restrictions on commercial law, and copyright issues for online publication.  This prevents many libraries from providing full services that meet users’ expectations.”

Digital book

The new role of libraries abroad

Asst. Prof. Dr. Songphan mentioned the adjustment made by libraries abroad by citing examples of public libraries in the United States that turned book borrowing-returning into a drive-thru service, where staff members would hand out books to users without them having to get out of the car.  Also, the library space gets converted to accommodate multiple uses, such as support centers for those affected by COVID-19 because of their accessible locations. The area is spacious, well ventilated, and most importantly, there is enough parking space.  Staff members and librarians have also changed their role to be coordinators helping people who come for screening.  Some libraries in the U.S., like the New York Public Library, went so far as to invest in the development of an application and organized an Online Group Club to motivate everybody to read through group activities.

Book-return kiosk in the United States

In Europe, the National Library of France has added a new “Virtual Exhibition” service for the interested public to relieve the stress of a year-long pandemic. In Portugal, libraries have turned to produce audiobooks for relaxation by distributing them on YouTube channels.  In India, libraries have added a new “book therapy” service that will deliver recommended books to readers at home and minimize unnecessary travel.

Role change for Chula Library to keep up with the situation

Chula Library is also changing like its counterparts around the world.  Assoc. Prof. Dr. Amorn Petsom, Director of the Office of Academic Resources, Chulalongkorn University unveiled the plan to tackle this change after the meeting with the Thai Library Professional Association.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Amorn Petsom, Director of the Office of Academic Resources, Chulalongkorn University unveiled the plan to tackle this change after the meeting with the Thai Library Professional Association.
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Amorn Petsom

“The Office of Academic Resources, Chulalongkorn University or the Central Library closed down at the same time as the university since the first wave of outbreaks.  When the library closed, the first and foremost consideration for us was to ensure that students, lecturers, and all personnel could still have access to information in an online format, be it an automatic library, e-books, e-journals, and information databases. All library staff pays close attention to this matter by checking the IT system regularly.”

Online access to information

The Chula Library has also collaborated with the Office of Academic Affairs to facilitate its students, by providing notebook computers for them to borrow for online learning.  About 200 computers were donated by the Chula Alumni Association and other parties. In addition, the Chula Office of Academic Resources regularly organizes various training programs, such as an online class on how to use the EndNote program. Other services include a book delivery service to the homes of students and staff of Chulalongkorn University via the postal service free of charge.  This has been continuously operational since the initial outbreak.  More than 2,000 users have borrowed over 4,000 books to date.

Chula Library is ready to open again

During the closure, all the service systems were modified to be fully automated, such as the library entrance and exit, temperature measurement and face mask check station, sterilization of all returned books, and so on. Cleaning was done in every room, every floor even if there were no users. Library personnel must all be vaccinated against COVID-19 and as of now, over 90 percent of the personnel have been vaccinated.

“We are fully prepared to support the opening of Chulalongkorn University.  Students have already been so stressed from having to attend online classes and stay at home. So, as soon as the university opens, the library will be the place where students can meet and socialize with their friends while making full use of all areas of the library for studying.  And even if everyone is vaccinated, they must wear a mask while using the service,” Assoc. Prof. Dr. Amorn said.

Chula Library
Inside Chula Library

The future of libraries in the New Normal era

Asst. Prof. Dr. Songphan, Head of the Department of Library Science, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University also projected the future of the Chula Library after this crisis that all systems will be migrated online. A structural overhaul is needed, from budgeting to procurement of various resources.  Physical resources won’t be relied upon as much.  Changes like this will take away some jobs while creating new ones. At the same time, online resources have the abovementioned limitations, especially in terms of agreements, contracts, and permissions which need to be worked out so that the library can truly meet users’ needs.

“Before the library provided first-come, first-served services, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the inequality of opportunities.  This prompted us to rethink the way we give our services to favor necessity.  There will be a method to prioritize the use of resources. The borrowers must inform his or her need and how urgent the need is, in comparison with others who need the same resource.  The library has to serve everyone, but the resources are limited and unfortunately we cannot please everybody at the same time,” Asst. Prof. Dr. Songphan reiterated.

Chula’s encouragement and support for research is excellent for teachers, students, and the public.

Associate Professor Dr. Suchana Chavanich Faculty of Science, Chulalongkorn University