The University of Sharjah’s Libraries Department in Facing the Current Challenges
The University of Sharjah Libraries Department is one of the most prominent actors in its educational system and scientific communication, and one of its most important means of producing, preserving, and disseminating information. This in addition to its vital role in supporting the University learning process in general. It is also the backbone of the scientific research process, through what it provides of information sources and many services that support scientific research. This emerging digital environment has imposed itself on University Libraries, which made them offer new services such as electronic sources and resources that made it possible to facilitate the provision of their services remotely by relying on modern technology. This with the intentions to provide educational content for students and faculty in an effective way, and to reduce time, effort, and cost. This was stated by His Excellency Prof. Hamid M.K. Al Naimiy, Chancellor of the University of Sharjah. Al Naimiy added that the University of Sharjah Libraries were established along with the establishment of the University in 1997 to be the cornerstone of the educational process to support teaching, learning and scientific research and to encourage continuity in lifelong learning. In light of the current exceptional circumstances through which the world is going, and in light of the challenges facing educational institutions worldwide where attendance in universities or educational institutions is no longer the only way that enables the student to obtain appropriate education, students and professors have converged in a virtual world that simulates classrooms, all of which increased the responsibility for libraries.
Dr. Hussein El Mahdi, Dean of Academic Support Services, stressed that the University of Sharjah's Libraries include many resources, whether printed or electronic, covering many areas, including natural and applied sciences, human and social sciences, technology, health sciences and medicine, along with general and cultural knowledge. He added that the University Libraries contains more than 320 thousand printed books and the equivalent of 350 thousand electronic books. The number of electronic journals reaches 80 thousand magazines through the publishers' sites and through 110 electronic databases with the participation of the University of Sharjah Libraries. The graduate studies research projects and doctoral theses reached 2.5 million theses in full text in both Arabic and English languages, in addition to more than 100 thousand educational videos from many databases. El Mahdi stressed that the University of Sharjah fully implemented distance learning platforms in all the colleges of the University, and all its academic programs and teaching courses, starting from Saturday March 7th, 2020. This in the interest of the University Administration to apply the highest levels of health safety for its students and all its employees, and in compliance with the decisions issued by the concerned authorities in the UAE in this regard. Much like all University departments and colleges, the University Libraries began applying precautionary measures to counter the spread of the Corona Virus (COVID-19) in order to preserve the safety of students, members of University community, and visitors of the Libraries from the general public. The Libraries have worked to provide their services remotely, as well as to support the distance learning system through many procedures. What aided the Department in doing so is its acquisition over the past years for a large number of electronic information resources and the diversity of the contents of these sources that include E-books, scientific articles and university theses, while making them available in a number of languages other than Arabic, such as English and French. Those are all available around the clock, and throughout the week, to support and benefit students and professors in the process of learning and conducting remote research. Moreover, this represents the optimal use of the University of Sharjah Libraries acquisition program that allows the University community access to electronic resources from off-campus, allowing students or faculty members to conduct research in databases and retrieve important documents easily. Ms. Nadia Masoud, Director of the Libraries Department at the University of Sharjah, explains that the Libraries page on the University’s website is the first station and the main portal through which students or faculty members access all resources of Libraries and request reference services. The Libraries, she adds, have provided their users with an exploration tool that enables them to search in all sources of electronic information in all its forms, and enables them to retrieve the results and access the material in full text. The Libraries page on the website also includes links that allow users to search the automatic index and links to a list of periodicals and databases alphabetically and by subject as well as use reference citation programs.
Nadia Masoud added that the University of Sharjah Libraries have taken many measures to continue to provide their services in an optimal manner, as the Libraries services staff work in remote management very efficiently, and that is why there has been no change in the services of electronic Libraries and all of this is thanks to the hard work, dedication and creativity shown by the Libraries employees in the service of the University community in light of the current exceptional circumstances. She also confirmed that the Libraries page clearly contains links to electronic services forms and the "Ask the Librarian" form, which provides immediate assistance. Various other communication channels such as e-mail and library phone numbers have been added so that users can communicate with the Libraries staff easily, and employees can answer them and provide them with information in record time. Training sessions and lectures are held through video communication technology and many sessions are being conducted and recorded as a reference for later use by students. Dr. Hussein El Mahdi emphasized that the document delivery service is still ongoing extensively where faculty and students can request scientific articles, chapters of books and other electronic materials and the Libraries team from a distance can provide them with the required resources immediately and in a timely manner. This is in addition to providing students with remote research assistance service, in which students request assistance by communicating with the general service specialist through the many available communication channels, and provide him with the research topic, so that students are directed to build the correct research keywords that are used in the search of relevant information, and enable them to access the full text of electronic resources of interest.
Dr. El Mahdi added that the Library Department offers the College LibGuides service. The guide offers links to databases and libraries that provide free digital resources, in addition to other links related to access research papers on the Covid-19 virus extracted from international databases. Dr. El Mahdi assures that users, whether students or faculty members, are not deprived of the printed resources due to the temporary closure of the library doors, so the Libraries work by receiving requests for printed books by phone or electronically, then the service employees work on preparing the required resources in the Libraries and contacting students or faculty members come receive them on a specific day and according to a prior appointment, taking into account all preventive measures and precautions to protect them and protect students and faculty.