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History, Learning Resources and the National Student Survey (NSS) (31 July 2013)

Posted by JackieHanes on 1 August, 2013

I was invited to attend a roundtable discussion at De Montfort University – also in attendance were librarians from universities of Loughborough, Nottingham, Northampton and Warwick. The invitation was timely, because our National Student Survey score for learning resources in history fell considerably in 2012.  In the last academic year, I have been working with the School of History to improve library resources and student satisfaction. 

The Higher Education Authority (Carrigan 2010) found that history students were dissatisfied with Learning Resources (NSS questions 16 (library) and 17 (IT)).  This was an experience shared by all (but one) of the librarians at the roundtable.  It was heartening (but also saddening), to find that I am not alone, and that our experience is ‘normal’. 

The roundtable started with presentations from Chris Powis (Head of Library and Learning Services at the University of Northampton), and Neil Skinner (Assistant Librarian and History PhD Student at De Montfort University).  Chris outlined the problems and solutions of history and learning resources; and Neil described his current research project into history and learning resources.  We then began our discussions, which I have attempted to summarise by theme.

Problems with history and learning resources

  • Length of reading lists (500+ items per module)
  • Lack of differentiation on reading lists (essential/background)
  • Preference for monographs on reading lists (over journal articles)
  • Availability of items on reading lists (out of print, print only, no ebooks)
  • Focus on directed reading (reading lists do not encourage independent research)
  • Theft and vandalism of the library’s history books
  • History students seek help from academics (not from librarians)
  • Attitude of (some) history academics towards the library

Solutions to history and learning resources

  • Liaison librarian (increased liaison with history department)
  • Liaison librarian (increased contact with history students)
  • Library recovery plan for departments with low NSS scores
  • Use evidence (statistics) to support case for change

Research project on history and learning resources

  • Review of available literature
  • Survey (online questionnaire) of history students
  • Interview with history academics
  • Roundtable discussion with history librarians

NSS Question 16

In the NSS, the library is evaluated by a single question:- “the library resources and services are good enough for my needs”.  The question is rather simplistic, and open to different interpretations.  The question relates to library resources and services, not to facilities or the environment.  Yet student comments often relate to opening hours, study spaces, and noise.  A library refurbishment often leads to an increased NSS score.  This may have increased our NSS scores in 2010 and 2011, with the 2012 cohort returning to pre-refurbishment levels.  It was noted that the library tends to perform better in other surveys.  However, we can not change the NSS question, and it is our key performance indicator.

Modules

Our School of History offers a large number of modules, including special subjects in second and third year, which reflect their academics research interests.  Core modules  have large student numbers, but optional/special modules have comparatively small student numbers, yet the library must resource all modules, and each module comes with a lengthy reading list (see below).  Also, staff changes means that new academics bring new research interests and develop new modules of study, which again need to be resourced by the library.  It takes time to develop a collection of library resources. 

Reading Lists

Is the history reading list part of the problem, and not the solution?  What is the purpose of a reading list?  Should it provide students with key introductory readings to a subject, or should it be a complete body of knowledge on a subject?  The history reading list is a work of wonder – perhaps more accurately described as a bibliography.  Students (rightly) expect all items on their reading list to be available in their university library.  However, financial constraints mean that the library struggles to provide one copy of each item on a history reading list, let alone providing multiple copies to cope with high student demand.  

All of the universities had an electronic reading list system (either proprietary or in-house), but were at various stages of implementation, with some university’s mandating it’s use, and others using in on a voluntary basis.  There is a reluctance to use electronic reading list systems from academics with long reading lists.  While the electronic reading list system gives the library access to reading lists; it does not appear to resolve problems regarding resourcing reading lists.  All universities experienced problems purchasing adequate resources – regardless of the generosity of their library budget. 

Skinner found that history academics want their library to provide a broad range of resources (multiple titles not copies), and they are generally pleased with their library’s collection.  However, the history students’ most common complaint is that the library “does not have enough books” (multiple copies of a single title).  Academics want their students to become independent learners and researchers, and to go beyond their reading list.  Yet they continue to provide long reading lists for modules, including recommended reading for essay titles, which does not encourage their students to conduct independent research, and use other library resources. 

To what extent can librarians advise academics on best practice in teaching?

eBooks and Short Loans

Electronic books (particularly multi-user licenses) can be useful in making high demand titles more widely available (replacing the need to purchase multiple copies).  New titles are often published in both print and electronic formats, yet history reading lists often include old and out-of-print titles, which are not available electronically.  Where e-books are available, the format may not be popular with students.  In my focus group with history students in 2012, I was surprised to find that students preferred short loan print books to e-books. 

Traditionally, high demand titles were placed in the library’s short loan collection.  For history, this often meant that the only copy was placed in the short collection.  Short loan collections are unpopular (hard to find, short loan period, and high overdue fines), but perhaps a necessary evil if we want to circulate resources effectively.  One university had interfiled their short and normal loan collections (to the horror of their history department) – but had found that use of resources increased. 

Library Inductions

All librarians had some contact time with first year students, however this varied from 15 minutes, to 1 hour to 8 hours (as part of an academic skills module).  Follow-up sessions tended to come in the second year, as students prepared for dissertations.  Outside library inductions, librarians had little contact with history students, who appear to be quite self-sufficient.  Yet, the students do not communicate dissatisfaction with library resources or services during their course, just in the NSS survey at the end of their degree programme.  Perhaps we can improve our liaison and marketing with history students as well as history departments and academics?

Primary Resources

We briefly touched on student access to primary historical resources.  Do we expect our undergraduate students (to travel) to use archives and special collections at other libraries?  Along with the Russell Group universities, we are fortunate to have a good special collections department, and to have purchased digital collections of primary resources.  Others are less fortunate, and do struggle to provide adequate primary resources to support study and research.

Conclusion

The roundtable discussion was very interesting, and has left me with more questions than answers.  The afternoon passed very quickly, and we could have talked all day.  We can not change the NSS question, the reading lists or our library budgets.  Perhaps we can change the attitudes and expectations of history academics and students?  I will be very interested to read Neil Skinner’s final research report.

 

References

Carrigan, B (2010) History Departments and the National Student Survey (Coventry: Higher Education Academy) http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/subjects/history/br_carrigan_nss2009_20100526.pdf

National Student Survey (2013) http://www.thestudentsurvey.com/content/nss2012_questionnaire_english.pdf

Posted in Service Delivery | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

EPUB vs PDF

Posted by gazjjohnson on 8 July, 2011

Interesting question from my boss this morning asking about the EPUB format especially as it contrasts to PDF, which i confess I know little about.  This is on the back on one of our departments increasingly looking towards making material available on eReaders rather than our VLE (BlackBoard).  My thanks to the folks on twitter whom have kicked in the following bits of insight.

  • EPUB is basically a zipped bag of xml and css with slightly improved DC metadata in it. Best for reflowable text, unlike PDF.
  • PDF is written in stone so doesn’t flow well on ereader devices.  Best ereader for PDF is iPad. EPUBflows.
  • Calibre makes EPUB
  • EPUB will work better on e-readers like kindle – PDFs work but difficult to read
  • Think there is linked data potential in the metadata.
  • http://bit.ly/g7CzSe v.3 is particularly interesting from a metadata perspective
  • Not just for ereaders IMO. Range of advantages Inc. Reusability & accessibility

So there you are – all the wiser now.  The link above is actually well worth following as it does give quite a clear view.  Is it enough information for the boss?  I don’t know, but I’ll pass it along and see what else she’d like to know.

Posted in Service Delivery, Technology & Devices | Tagged: , , , , | 13 Comments »

eBook Reader

Posted by selinalock on 4 February, 2011

Sony eReader

Sony Pocket eReader

I’d asked for a Kindle as a Xmas present, judging that would be the cheapest to get. So, I was very surprised to get a Sony Pocket eReader (350 model in pink!) instead.

Have become a convert very quickly, as it’s great for carrying around in my bag, reading on the bus, or in cafés, and for taking on weekends away.

The plan is to use it to read lots of the freely available, out of copyright, classics I’ve never read. Loaded it up with titles from authors such as Dickens, H.P. Lovecraft, M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe, E.M. Forster, Oscar Wilder, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Machen, Conan-Doyle, Bram Stoker, Jules Vern, and Mark Twain. Plus some Cory Doctorow  titles and some short stories by friends. Also found it good for reading drafts of novels/scripts that I’ve been sent to critique by friends.

Features I like:

  • Really nice size (a little smaller than the Kindle), which means I can hold it with one hand, while drinking a cuppa, and it doesn’t put any strain on my wrist.
  • The page turning buttons on the bottom can easily be pressed while still holding it in one hand, so no need to put my cuppa down. It also allow you to turn the pages via the touch screen but that’s a little more fiddly.
  • Touch screen is really easy to use.
  • Has a stylus for use in the trickier screens, like the touch screen keyboard.
  • Can type text memos.
  • Can handwrite notes on the books pages and highlight text (and delete).
  • Can add bookmarks (and delete).
  • Can draw pictures on it!
  • Double clicking on a word will bring up the OED definition.
  • Remembers what page you got to on any book/document you go into, so you can have several titles on the go at once.
  • Can read PDFs and if they are text only will also re-size/word wrap in the same way it does for the native ePub format – though you do get the odd formatting issue with PDFs.
  • Being able to sort books into self-titled collections.
  • and I haven’t even used all the functions yet!

Not so good stuff…

  • That you have to hook it up to your computer to add/delete books and recharge it. (No wifi).
  • The software provided for your computer (Reader Library), has a tendency to crash.  Though it’s fairly easy just to move stuff across to the reader as if it’s an external drive anyway without software.
  • You can’t do anything with the drawings you’ve made because they’re SVG (scalable vector graphics) & I haven’t been able to figure out how to convert them into jpgs.
  • Not really usable for comics. We’ve put a copy of an issue of one of our small press comics on in PDF and the pictures show up pretty well in b/w or greyscale (as the screen isn’t colour) but obviously they’re too small to read and it can’t resize them. Can zoom but really fiddly, so any comics would have to be done as a panel at a time, as they’re are for other small screen devices.

I still love printed books, but this is certainly much, much easier to use on the move.

I did a training session on eBooks and eReaders for some of our library staff yesterday, and they found it really useful to see the difference between our online library subscribed ebooks, and the type of ebooks you would download on to an eReader.

Posted in Technology & Devices | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Inter-lending electronic only items

Posted by gazjjohnson on 25 January, 2011

Increasingly many libraries, including the British Library, with whom we interact for inter-lending and document supply purposes are purchasing materials in electronic only formats, and in some cases this is the only format in which they are produced.  For many this means that their licenses restrict the ability to loan or otherwise supply an item to another institution.  This means for our customers that there are items that we are unable to supply.  Thankfully for the most part this is only a small number of items but it is likely to grow.

Here at Leicester we keep a list of licenses, maintained by our Copyright Administrator, that details what we can and cannot do – to the best of our knowledge – in terms of interlending or supply from electronic only items.  For the most part this tends to be a “cannot be supplied” option, but this isn’t quite true across the board.  Some publishers do enable the lending or supply of physical duplicates of electronically sourced materials.  Thus when we do get requests for electronic materials to inter-lend we do our best to see if they can be on a case by case basis. 

I was curious if other organisations take the same approach, and so mailed a question off to lis-ILL

How are other institutions and organisations handling this when you get requests for eonly items? Do you have a blanket “can’t loan/won’t loan” approach or do you check licenses in each and every case in the event that items are loanable under some circumstances?

My thanks to the ten institutions whom took the time to feedback comments on their approach.  Numbers below refer to the number of institutions in my (small) sample and how they responded:

  • We check some, but not all of the licenses before making a loan decision: 1
  • We would check all of the licenses before making a loan decision: 6
  • We have an automated system that makes license checking easy: 1
  • We have a blanket “don’t loan” for electronic resources: 2
  • We maintain an electronic list of license terms: 1
  • We keep a physical license set of documents: 1
  • Would approach the publishers directly: 1

Quite a few of the respondents noted an issue with time or staff resource for checking licenses terms, especially where they had a blanket no-loaning of electronic resources approach.  It seems the picture on the whole is a mixture, although most people seem to have begun to think about the issue (and a few in my sample are quite concerned for the future of interlending as a consequence!)

I think there’s scope here for a bit more research across the UK, and if there’s enough interest in my findings here I’d be happy to sort out a more structured survey!

Posted in Document Supply | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

eBooks, eBooks everywhere

Posted by selinalock on 22 October, 2010

eBook - Cybook

eBook by PPL 2A on Flickr

eBook discussion are popping up in all areas of my life at the moment, from print vs e on the British Fantasy Society forum, the new Doctor Who book by Michael Moorcock being available on the Kindle, to creating comics for the iPhone/Pad, to students asking about them in inductions, to many friends having just bought Kindles or iPads… so a very hot topic, particularly since the Kindle came down in price recently.

I was kindly allowed to gatecrash the CULN eBook & eReader session being run by the BDRA last week. so, here’s a few thoughts from that session and other things I’ve been reading:

  • What is an eBook? A document that can be read on an eReader?
  • How do you read an eBook?
  • Via computers, laptops, dedicated readers (Kindle, Sony eReader), iPad, iPhone, iTouch? Many different routes, some of which require the eBooks in certain formats.
  • There is now a Kindle app for non-Kindle devices to allow people to buy ebooks from Amazon.
  • eBooks formats: libraries still bound by publishers to use password/IP restricted sites, especially for textbooks, which only allow students to read the texts online rather than download them to their own devices.  The students are generally not impressed with this, nor the copyright restrictions that mean they can’t print much off either…
  • PDF – the favourite of academic journal publishers and still very popular with other publishers as an easy format for them to provide, but not a format that works well on dedicated eReaders.
  • Doc (word docs), txt (plain text), html.
  • Mobi (Mobipocket) format – used by the Kindle.
  • ePub format – used by Sony.
  • Why use an eReader instead of a laptop/ipad etc? eReaders like the Kindle and Sony use electronic paper technology, which mimics what ink looks like on paper. The theory being that tis makes is much easier to read the text and easier on the eyes. (Friends with a Kindle have commented they find it much easier to read than a computer screen).
  • Computer screens are backlit making them much brighter, and possibly causing more eye strain. Are younger readers more used to this technology?
  • Formats like Mobi and ePub are also designed to resize easily to the size of the device and reader requirements than traditional formats.
  • it is very easy to convert a Word document to various eBook formats using free software like calibre. (We have a go, it really is easy!). Calibre can also act as an eBook file organiser. e.g. inplace of iTunes on the Sony eReader.
  • Public libraries in the USA and Hampshire Libraries in the Uk have started experimenting with loaning eBooks using the Overdrive system. However, the Publishers Association have just announced new restrictions that look set to put a stop to a lot of eBook lending options!!
  • Lots of free (mainly out of copyright or creative commons) eBooks out there on services such as Project Gutenberg, Feedbooks and Manybooks.
  • Amazon have a new feature on all their book pages that allows you to ”Tell the publisher, I’d like this book on the Kindle” – is this where the pressure for eBooks will come from in future?
  • Also a very interesting piece by SF&F writer Charles Stross on why eBooks don’t cost much less to produce than printed books.

I’m sure there’s been lots more stuff out there that I’ve forgotten, anyone?

Posted in Mobile technologies, Service Delivery, Technology & Devices, Web 2.0 & Emerging Technologies | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

The death of the textbook?

Posted by knockels on 16 June, 2009

I first heard about Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to replace textbooks with online materials while driving to work the other day.   Since then, it has attracted my attention in a number of places.

The report I heard first was on the Radio 4 Today programme and suggested that he wanted to replace textbooks with websites and laptops.   This might, it was suggested, be as expensive as the textbooks.    But then another report I read (and I can’t remember where, sorry!) suggested that he wanted to replace textbooks with ebook readers.  And then it turned up on Have I Got News for You?, the BBC satirical news quiz.   There it was dismissed by one participant as a bad idea, in a tone that suggested that there could be no other reaction.

I think the most important thing, whether it is websites or ebooks, is the thing suggested by John Dunford, the head of the Association of School and College Leaders, who appeared (metaphorically) on the Today programme – the main issue with this replacement of books with electronic content is the issue of quality.  How will students know that the material they are reading is of good quality?   Of course, this is an issue with books too, and exactly the same issue is present in the same way if ebooks are used instead of print.  But if it is really websites, the issue has a new dimension.

Finally, on the HIFA2015 discussion list (HIFA2015 is campaigning for access to health information for all by the year 2015), several contributors have extended Governor Schwarzenegger’s suggestion to a developing world context and pointed out that access to electronic information is much more difficult there, so replacing books with anything electronic just does not work, for most people, yet.

Posted in Collection management, Technology & Devices | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Will Ebooks finally have their day?

Posted by gazjjohnson on 23 September, 2008

I ask the question following on in part to a discussion myself and Selina were having this morning about the economics of eBooks and eReaders; now the big boys like Amazon and Sony are getting into the game.  Then what do I read in the latest CILIP Gazette?  But a front cover article on eBooks/readers.

Is this (finally) the beginning of the end for the printed word in the library, meaning we can switch more floor space over to student study – or will it take years for people to take it up?  I know I’ve already spoken with more than one student in recent years who was hoping we’d go down the ebook only route sooner rather than later.

I just don’t want to be the one on the end of the phone explaining the authentication routine for her non-standard ebook reader bought at Aldi*.  Will they all read PDF or are there going to be other new standards?  Will we have to upgrade all our stocks data format; data preservation techniques are hardly robust enough as it is let alone bringing in issues like ensuring future accessibility.

So I won’t be running out to buy a reader myself, I’ll let the bleeding edge folks do that and see what’s gained prominence and acceptability in a few years.  Assuming we all survive the collapse of the world financial markets that is…

*I speak with bitter experience here of Aldi’s cheap but annoyingly non-future proofed bargin priced tech peripherals!

Posted in Service Delivery, Web 2.0 & Emerging Technologies | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

 
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