Learning and conducting research remotely: PSL’s libraries and museums are ready to help
Directors at Université PSL’s libraries and museums have been working in close cooperation to make it easier for students and researchers alike to access a wealth of supplemental resources across the University during the lockdown.
Much of PSL’s education is rooted in ongoing research: the vast majority of PSL students, from the CPES Multidisciplinary Preparatory Class to the doctoral level, are researchers in the making. For those students, the final months of the spring semester – and for doctoral candidates, the summer months as well – are a period for writing papers, internship reports and the last chapters of their dissertation. So access to online data and documentation is vital in order to continue their research and ensure a successful year, particularly since the actual libraries have been largely off limits since the start of December. Back in 2016, Université PSL established an online documentation portal that was also designed to disseminate knowledge to its member communities and the broader public, and it quickly adopted a policy for pooling and developing those e-resources that has now been vindicated.
The catalog includes six million entries compiled from catalogs of printed and electronic works, archive inventories, databases and digitized text and image corpora from each institution.
Each page of the PSL-Explore portal – the gateway to printed and cultural resources in the University’s 68 libraries, museums and photographic collections, available in both French and English – provides direct access to the PSL Catalog. That resource contains six million entries compiled from catalogs of printed and electronic works, archive inventories, databases and digitized text and image corpora from each institution. The databases and full-text resources will be of primary interest to researchers: PSL offers access to its open archive and resources licensed through France’s ISTEX program, as well as a wide range of bundled subscriptions held jointly by its member institutions. Those shared subscriptions are being enhanced on a regular basis, with publishers providing expanded access since the start of the quarantine. A special page provides the latest updates on databases and other resources that are newly available. Each school is likewise working to keep its community informed. The Ecole des chartes–PSL, ENS–PSL, ENSAD, Dauphine–PSL, Collège de France, Observatoire de Paris–PSL, MINES ParisTech–PSL: they’re all providing news on their websites, access to the Hypothèses log (modeled on the one for the Collège de France libraries, Colligere), newsletters, emails to readers and Facebook and Twitter posts. Their aim is to reach out to readers and provide attentive, personalized service, including reading recommendations, news items, information on initiatives by specialist publishers or libraries and more.
PSL-Explore can search all types of data, including printed, natively electronic or digitized resources, and with impressive granularity, offering access to research articles, open-access resources, critical reviews or chapters of e-books.
Resources not included in the University’s bundled subscriptions may be available nonetheless, through any PSL component schools that may have acquired the resource on their own or can request access to specialized resources on an exceptional basis during the lockedown. Unlike a traditional library catalog, PSL-Explore can search all types of data, including printed, natively electronic or digitized resources, and with impressive granularity, offering access to research articles, open-access resources, critical reviews or chapters of e-books. It can be used to verify references, monitor the literature on a specific topic or browse data, letting either accuracy or serendipity be your guide: users can use PSL-Explore to open doors to information before they begin their research or while it’s under way, or to confirm or refine earlier discoveries as they’re completing their work.
Students can also take advantage of these weeks of isolation to take a look at their school’s MOOCs or tutorials, some specially prepared for the quarantine. ENSAD, for example, has put together some tutorials of its own to help students make use of e-resources they may be unfamiliar with. The question-and-answer desk at the Dauphine–PSL library and the service desk at the library of the Ecole des Mines and the Observatoire de Paris–PSL are more valuable than ever and ready to help users. The Ecole des Mines library is using social media and other resources to disseminate content about the current unprecedented health crisis, including tools and articles to help students identify false or misleading information, so they can develop informed opinions. It’s one way the school is using the lockdown to enhance critical reading skills online.
The digital library is inspiring and entertaining.
PSL-Explore offers visitors two search options. They can use Access and Browse to search the literature and become familiar with resources in the 68 collections overseen by the University and the terms for their use. Discover, meanwhile, provides access to the scientific and artistic output of PSL institutions: Focus, Virtual exhibits, Conferences, Films and videos. These resources, spanning research, artistic creation and popular science, are a testament to the extraordinary range of talent at a university that gives equal weight to every field of endeavor: the arts as well as biology, chemistry, cognitive sciences and engineering, along with the social sciences, economics, history, religion, archeology, the digital humanities and more. That diversity is also reflected in a digital heritage library that currently offers 25 collections of digitized documents (with many more scheduled to come online in the months to come). The quarantine offers a chance to explore those riches, including the Paul Ricoeur and Paul Langevin collections; film directors talking about their art, including Francis Ford Coppola, Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda and Cédric Klapisch; the Charles Friedel archives and documents from the Curie laboratory. From the scientific instruments in the collection of the Observatoire and ESPCI to the René Gabriel watercolors housed at ENSAD and the courses on morphology given by Jean-François Debord at the Beaux-Arts de Paris, the digital library is inspiring and entertaining. Some of the virtual exhibits can be used to explore those document collections, such as the one on Marie Curie, while others provide an introduction to a topic, as in the case of Reinventing the Celts. Visitors can even delve into an archaeological site (Labraunda in Turkey). Meanwhile, the exhibit at the Ecole des Mines’s Mineralogy Museum on “Minerals and Health,” originally set to open on March 10, is now being showcased on Instagram instead.
Always highly responsive to their users, PSL’s libraries and museums are rolling out new innovations every day. They’re taking advantage of these unique circumstances to develop new content: the Mineralogy Museum, for example, has developed short YouTube videos about various rocks and is leading a Rock of the Day campaign. ESPGG has introduced “Confine Ta Science” (Lock down your science), a program of explainers about science, while ENS and Dauphine are crafting tutorials and updates on online documentation for each scientific discipline. And CNSAD is maintaining a collaborative, updated list of free cultural resources that are legally available on the Internet. In addition, those museums and libraries are contributing to ongoing research: ENS has created a collaborative bibliography on Zotero devoted to COVID-19, with a focus on the humanities and social science. In other words, the process of adjusting to this new experience of quarantine is bearing long-term fruit. As students and research professors are forced to rely entirely on virtual libraries, PSL is taking the opportunity to map out an even more ambitious library policy, with increased sharing of resources, a wider range of content and initiatives and easier access to print and cultural resources, including via smartphone using the MyPSL app. As the core of the university, the traditional venue for intellectual dialogue and scholarly camaraderie but also the driver of digital innovation, libraries are – now more than ever – at the heart of research, ensuring that education marches on.