Monday, March 28, 2011

The Latest on the Textbook Reserves Project

 forsythia, near the physical plant

Having textbooks available on reserve continues to be a wildly popular service. It really gets students into the library, which in itself is an accomplishment in light of an item I discussed a few weeks ago -- the fact that at a commuter college students don't necessarily come to the building, unless they must for an assignment. This semester we were also able to expand the service to include all three college library locations. Even when we aren't able to get copies of the textbook for every campus where a class is offered, it's been useful to extend the possibility. Here are some other observations from the semester so far:

-I still don't entirely understand the publishers' policy of providing desk copies. As a whole, the publishers' representatives are really nice to work with -- in particular, certain individuals at Cengage, Pearson, McGraw and Wiley. Providing an extra copy of the book to faculty is common practice, so this easily extends to the library. But I have to wonder, is there internal research showing that when a student has temporary access to a book he/she is more likely to subsequently purchase it? I wouldn't be surprised if there was; I remember being a student short on funds, but it would never have been sufficient to use a library copy of a required textbook for the duration of the class.

-For the past two semesters, we used a survey to collect feedback from students who were using the textbooks on reserve. A frequent response to a question about how to improve the service was the desire to access the textbook online. When I created the survey, I added this option out of curiosity rather than because I thought it would truly appeal to most students. But if the feedback is accurate, and if online access to textbooks is a highly desired feature for our student population, the next thing the library could be doing is working with the publishers to arrange institutional subscriptions and access to the the textbooks through the college's online course management system.

-Another interesting occurrence is that students in online courses have come to the library expecting us to have a textbook unique to the online course. I think most people (including administrators) assume that students taking an online course will not expect physical, in-person services from the college, but this demonstrates the opposite. The fact that it has happened more than once may reflect certain things about our college's population of students taking online courses: That they are local residents; that they are taking other classes on the campus, or come to campus frequently despite not being required to; and/or that they expect a hybrid environment even when their classroom is entirely online.

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