Sunday, September 12, 2010

More on the Reserves Project

Swallowtail butterfly, on campus

Judging by the positive feedback last week, I thought it might be helpful to expand on the reserves project, and to clarify some of the details:

First, the project was (and continues to be) extremely time-consuming I'd estimate conservatively that I spent about 200 hours this past summer collecting information & tracking down copies of the texts. I would like to think that in the future it might not take so long, but on the other hand there were lots of books I had to give up on because I ran out of time.

After they arrived in my office, I routed the books to the access services department for entry into our integrated library system and physical processing. I don't know exactly how many hours that took, but it was a lot of additional work for our already small, over-extended staff.

Next, I tried to get the word out. I figured the service would be pointless if nobody knew about it, but word spread like wildfire before I even had a message properly composed. Still, formally describing the project was worthwhile because as the news spread, so did the rumors and inaccuracies. In fact, I probably should have started the publicity process sooner. During the summer, I made sure the deans, program chairs, and academic coordinators knew about it, and then as the semester began the librarians announced it at academic meetings. The final push in the past few weeks involved me emailing each of the instructors who are using the 129 (and counting) books. This last, extremely targeted approach was definitely worth the effort judging by the appreciative replies.

With the service up and running, we wanted to be sure to collect feedback from the users, and so the circulation staff has been putting survey forms in the textbooks. Students return them with the textbooks, and we do not ask for their names. As of last Friday, we had gathered 62 completed feedback forms, which have been helpful to review even though they only represent a small segment of overall usage.

Based on responses to my targeted emails and the user feedback forms, it sounds like students and faculty really appreciate this service. To someone coming from the outside & surveying the project, the reaction might be "Well of course they love it, you're supplying them with a book they now don't have to buy," but from what I'm seeing this is not all about depriving the bookstore of money.

This service does not replace buying the book. The textbooks can only be used in the library for three hours per loan period, which makes it extremely inconvenient for a student to rely exclusively on the library's copy for an entire semester. What the library is providing is a stop-gap: If anything, exposure to the book makes students realize how much they need their own copies.

Keeping a copy of a required text on reserve at the library is useful for reasons beyond enabling reluctant purchasers. For example, I keep hearing about delays in financial aid. Many students rely on financial aid to purchase their textbooks. No financial aid means no money for textbooks. Students at a community college do not necessarily have a wallet full of credit cards or other financial means to cover unanticipated college expenses such as textbooks.

For better or worse, this service is bringing campus-wide attention to the library. On the bright side, it sends a message that the library is actively concerned about the obstacles students face. I'm also starting to think that the textbooks are pulling students into the library at the beginning of the school year in a way that's more immediate and relevant than a library orientation. I haven't checked, but I would guess that the number of library card applications is up, and once they have a library card I hope students might consider using the library for something else besides textbooks.

I'm also noticing that the publishers willing to supply these extra desk copies look really good. I can imagine that faculty might want to work with publishers that seem cooperative and accommodating in this way.

I'd like to end on a positive note, so I'll gloss over some of the negatives of this project new administrative mandates that the library immediately expand the service rather than evaluate and gradually extend as we are able; faculty who are annoyed because they think if we have one textbook we should have them all; students complaining that we don't have more than one copy of a textbook and say that for anyone with the energy to work on this, go for it.


  1. Wow this is impressive and very user-centered! I am surprised publishers were cooperative. How did you convince them?

  2. The book store gave me the names of the publisher's representatives to the college, so I contacted them directly, but I'm not sure what the publishers' incentive was to help me. It's possible that it's tied to the amount of business the company does with the college (?). Success did vary from publisher to publisher. I had no help from Elsevier, for example, but certain reps at McGraw, Pearson, and Cengage were great. This semester I'm trying to go through the departments at the college instead of contacting the publishers directly, so we'll see if that's more effective.