Monday, September 10, 2012

Wrong Turn With Electronic Reserve

Electronic Reserve, eReserve, Reserve Online - even the names we give smack of something past it's use by date.
Reserve? How mired in our print history is that word?  To all you young'ns here's a brief catch up episode:

Almost all library stuff used to be printed.  Lecturers collated reading lists. If a lecturer wanted all her students (or all his motivated students) to read something that wasn't in the text book but was in the library systems were developed to try and ensure 300 students weren't fighting for a book on a semester long loan to a PhD candidate, or hunting endlessly for a particular volume of Journal of Applied Physiology that had fallen down the back of a photocopier or been mis-shelved in Children's Literature.
Institutions varied but the fundamental approaches were usually a combination of:
  • Housing books in a separate gated collection with very short (hours rather than days) or no loan periods (often with private copies owned by lecturers) with some photocopiers that burned hot during semester
  • Giving some books a shorter loan period (I've seen two, three and seven day loan periods)
  • Reading blocks, or books of readings, - a stapled or bound lump of short readings - usually sold on a cost recovery basis with a suitable copyright declaration at the front...
Then came the interwebs - why have queues to access and copy print items when you can scan them and stick them on a server somewhere and let everyone access it on demand?  Then  came the copyright implications and the access management issues - how do students find a particular reading, how do you maintain continuity of access when lecturers change, courses change?

Well we developed systems for that, and systems that integrated with Learning Management Systems like Blackboard.

And while we fiddled with those our collection itself became more and more online, so we thought, hey, we can avoid copyright infringements by linking to the item on a publisher site (who we have a legal contract for access with - overriding basic copyright requirements) and not have to scan at all.

I think it's time we thought about why we are making lecturers fill in forms to get us to create metadata for articles that are already online with metadata and full text, that lecturers then have to embed individually into their Blackboard courses.

Sure some stuff still only exists in print and it makes sense to scan it and provide authenticated access to it - but why are we linking to stuff that is already discoverable online?  The old reserve system wasn't about spoon feeding students, it was about ensuring equity of access.  In the online world our students now have equity of access, why can't a lecturer give a list of citations to articles and expect a student to be able to find them through our incredible range of discovery tools?
 As a library we say promoting information literacy is one of our key roles with students, and we work closely with teaching staff to ensure that graduate attribute is attained by our students.

Why don't we show students how to find items on their reading lists?  How real world motivational is that?  Studies have shown that undergraduates under-perform on  'known item' searching, what a key skill that is for higher degree students.

Our current procedure for linking to a single article in Blackboard involves 24 steps shared between lecturers and library staff. Think what we could have been doing instead.