Special Libraries in the Time of COVID-19: A Time for Refining, Redefining and Rethinking Missions

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Special libraries, COVID-19, Coronavirus response, Academic libraries


The COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on all sectors of the world, one area where its impact provided the opportunity for reevaluation and change was in libraries, specifically special collections libraries. Faced with the closing of library buildings beginning in March 2020, special collections libraries faced the task of figuring out how to translate the materiality of their rare and unique materials in the virtual world. Defining and then moving essential operations into the virtual world proved to be a challenging but transforming opportunity. Recognizing that across the board different types of libraries struggled with their own challenges with shutting down; this chapter will not address those issues directly. Rather it will look at how one library’s special collections held at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) in the Division of Distinctive Collections, responded to the opportunity for reevaluation and change when the COVID-19 pandemic closed its doors in March 2020.