We are where you are.
The Library just a click away.
Never have the slogans long used by the Library and Information area to publicize the Digital Library made so much sense. In recent years, the investment made in electronic resources (which complement the collection on paper) has made this Library one of the best health libraries in the country, placing it in a comfortable position also on the international scene. All of this made it capable of dealing with the most unexpected challenges, including a pandemic like the one that is plaguing us today.
We are a hybrid Library, with a very rich collection, whose history refers to the Surgical Bookstore of the School of Surgery (1815), preceding the creation of the Royal School of Surgery in 1825. Proud of its past, but with a vision directed towards the future, the Library positions itself as a support service, aligning its performance strategy with the objectives defined for FMUL and in accordance with the levels of excellence and quality promoted by ULisboa.
The team's motto is “always work for the users’ needs and interests, calling upon it the responsibility of constantly developing its professional and human relationships skills, showing interest in the evolution of information technologies, researching new sources of information in health, in order to establish a professional complicity with the users that leads to the excellence of the services provided”.
In the atypical moment we are living, more than ever, we assume the responsibility and commitment to guarantee the best response to the needs created by this new and strange daily life.
When, in the middle of March, we closed the physical spaces, assuming functions in telework, it was a challenge for us, but also an opportunity. We did not know what awaited us, how long the pandemic would constrain our lives and how we would adapt to this new reality. In fact, we still don't know it. What we knew was that we had the necessary resources and skills to maintain user support and thus fulfil our mission.
We started to plan in the short term, week by week, month by month, in an exercise of constant adaptation and motivation. Physically distant, but always part of a team, always with the awareness that we are all in the same boat (interestingly, the word team derives from the French équipe, which refers to the notion of a group of people with a common purpose, usually referring to a skiff's crew, but also to the necessary means - the equipment - so that someone can carry out his activity).
In this sense, reinforcing the communication strategy was essential for everyone to know that we remain open even if closed, present even if absent, in short, connected to one, nobody, one hundred thousand, by a wire, by a network, by an Internet (ironically, we have been reminded of the old notion of the Internet, that is, a specific global system of networks with the purpose of serving users from all over the world), at the distance of a click, an email, a phone call or a Zoom session.
Having overcome the first difficulties that some users felt configuring the VPN and in having remote access to the resources - eBooks, periodical publications, databases to support teaching, research and clinical practice, other challenges came. In addition to Covid-19, the pandemic has given rise to new dangers. The information explosion reached dimensions never seen before, and gave us a greater responsibility: to separate the wheat from the chaff and to minimize the effects of the "infodemia". Never has Science been so exposed, never has access to credible scientific information been so essential.
All over the world, health libraries and their professionals play an important role in the identification and dissemination of resources, in the establishment of collaboration protocols with publishers, in supporting information research and training users who, for the first time, we started doing at a distance, realizing an old objective, so often postponed.
At this stage, the work of the team of the Information Dissemination Unit and Digital Library and of the Teaching and Research Support Unit became more visible. However, it should be noted that the work related to Library Science, Historical Archives and Museological Heritage, continued to be done, ensuring response to areas that, although more traditional and less visible, are equally important.
And because the Library does not close around itself, the internal and external collaboration network has also been strengthened. Some of us are part of the distance learning support team, following-up classes and exams. Others participate in the social responsibility project Help this Cause! Support for other national and international libraries is also constant. Collaboration with the network of partner libraries of the European Association of Health Information Libraries has allowed us, for example, to support colleagues at the Library of the San Matteo Hospital in Pavia, Italy, at a particularly difficult moment that will remain in our memory forever as a rewarding experience.
As long as security conditions so require, we will continue mostly in teleworking, with a focus on digital resources. However, to respond to specific needs for access to documentation not available in digital format, namely documents from the historical archive, face-to-face service is still possible, by prior appointment and in compliance with hygiene and safety standards. No user will be left unanswered.
I believe that this experience will leave profound marks on our personal and professional lives, in the way it is made, made available, accessed and evaluated in Science, in teaching and learning methodologies, and in the role that health libraries and librarians play in providing support to the academic community. The challenges are great, but the opportunities will be proportionate, or at least the size of our resilience, motivation and willingness to change.
When we look back, and that moment will come, certainly not everything was perfect, we could have done it differently, more or better, but I am sure that the balance will be positive and that we will be grateful for the conditions that were guaranteed and for the way our Faculty was able to respond to these difficult times. Because, as I said, we are a team that is in the same boat rowing in the same direction, with all the means necessary for the course to be kept, even though the current feeling is the one Otto Neurath described so well: “We are like sailors who have to rebuild their boat on the high seas without ever having a dry dock to dismantle and rebuild it with the best materials”. We are Library, we are FMUL.
Susana Oliveira Henriques
Librarian - Head of Division of the Library and Information Area