Report no.61 on COVID-19: Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court Library During the Pandemic

This is a series of reports by the AALL FCIL-SIS Latin American Law Interest Group and Latino Caucus in a project monitoring COVID-19 legal responses in the Latin America and Caribbean region.

Please join us on Tuesday, September 21 at 4pm (New York) for a webinar on Accessing Brazilian Legislative and Judicial Information. This webinar is part of the Conference on Access to Information: Latin America and the Caribbean (CAI:LAC).

By Luiza Gallo Pestano (Em Português)

Since the beginning of the pandemic, in March 2020, the Library of the Supreme Court (STF) has followed the decisions of the Court and the guidelines of the government health team regarding the protocol for the resumption of services and activities. (Resolução  663, de 12/03/2020; Portaria 73, de 16/03/2020; Portaria 648, de 20/11/2020; Resolução 729, de 30/03/2021).  

In the first 15 days of the pandemic, where we did not knowing what to do, or what it would be like, or how long it would last, the library’s public servers were put into remote work immediately. The service began to be designed remotely. All phone extensions were routed to the servers’ private cell phones and the Court’s Information Technology Secretariat began to make adjustments so that the entire court staff, not just the librarians, could actually work remotely. The use of Teams platform was made widely available.  And, even if informally, the use of whatsapp was intensified among colleagues.

Brazil's Supreme Court
Brazil’s Supreme Court – By Leandro Ciuffo – Flickr, CC BY 2.0

A great effort was made to maintain the library’s activities, namely, selection, acquisition, bibliographic processing, virtual services (with the provision of copies of journal articles and book chapters, with respect to Brazilian copyright law – Lei 9.610, de 19/02/1998) and expansion of digital collections. Obviously, during 2020 the quantity of these activities was reduced, such as, for example, circulation of bibliographic material and digitization for the formation of digital collections from works from the collection itself. 

On the other hand, there was an expansion of virtual services and also in relation to the access to items from the subscribed databases of books and periodicals. Nowadays, the library maintains subscriptions, like Biblioteca Digital Forum de Direito, Biblioteca Digital Proview e HeinOnline Latin American Core. Additionally, the library uses an internal collection of about 60,000 items of articles and book chapters from the collection previously digitized to meet previous research and which are kept in a specific drive. Gradually, the information that is digitized is inserted in each worksheet for processing this material. Thanks to this process, there was an optimization of the use of the material in the collection, saving time and even paper. Regarding usage of databases, the users’ independence in conducting research in the databases was observed, in addition to the expanded possibility of remote research by research librarians to meet demands. 

On the other hand, we also observed the possibility of expanding the processing of digital material in remote work, as a way to expand the use of the team’s remote workforce. The work on the bank of normative acts and on the indexing of items from the digital collections of ancient jurisprudence was expanded. 

Thus, given the impossibility of working in person, each library team thought and planned activities that could be done remotely in order not to harm the library’s workflow, that is, provide information and subsidize the court’s jurisdictional provision. It is important to highlight that the STF was a pioneer in the development of virtual judicial services and its activities in all areas, although, with adaptations and respect for the protocols, were not suspended.

Gradually, face-to-face work was gradually reestablished, on a rotating basis, with reduced hours. All library staff works some days a week remotely and others in person. 

Currently all 4 library departments — Reference and Circulation (Referência e Circulação), which includes research in doctrine and legislation to assist the Cabinets of Ministers, Collection Management (Desenvolvimento de Coleções), Information and Data Management (Tratamento da Informação Bibliográfica e Gerência de Conteúdos Digitais) — maintain their activities in a hybrid way, with rotation of people in face-to-face work. 

Since June 7, 2021, the library loan service was resumed, with the exclusive use of the self-service terminal, upon prior request for bibliographic material by e-mail. Interlibrary loan was maintained only in cases of digitized articles and book chapters, following the policies adopted by other libraries. The library has established specific days and times for return and loan: Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays, from 1pm to 6pm. The reading room is still closed, as are the other collective areas of the library.  Access to collections and collections also remain closed. 

Finally, I note the lessons learned observed in the library during this period, not only for the opportunities found by the team to participate in courses, lectures, online conferences, as listeners or as speakers, but also for the opportunities found by the library to organize and hold online events.  Currently, to celebrate its 130th anniversary in August, the library is organizing a webinar — Agenda 2030 e bibliotecas jurídicas. Also two projects were developed by the library, which take place regularly: 

∙ Autor em Foco, which invites authors from the legal and related areas to talk about his/her recently published work, in a relaxed way and based on an interview made by a librarian. 

∙ Biblioteca com Vida, with a focus on Information Science, it intends to invite professional colleagues who wish to talk about their dissertations or theses, or even professional colleagues who are developing innovative projects in their libraries. This project aims to bring the library closer to the academy, offering space for exchange between information professionals. The first edition will be held in the second half of 2021. 

Unfortunately, we have had some cases of COVID contamination in our library colleagues, all between 2020 and early 2021. Currently, much of the library team is vaccinated with at least the first dose. This is a fact that brings me hope that soon we will be able to offer our services in a broader way, with the opening of library rooms for user access and circulation. I believe that the hybrid format will remain without harming the use of collective spaces in the library. A library without people becomes a space without discussion, without exchange, without life.

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