Monday, February 6, 2012

Textbooks on Reserve, again

This marks the fourth semester of offering textbooks on reserve at the library. (Click here to see all posts related to this topic.) The initial buzz surrounding the new service seems to have died down a bit, and the work now mostly revolves around about maintaining the collection and keeping it up to date. A few more issues have cropped up that I thought were interesting and worth mentioning here:

1) Keeping faculty members aware of what exactly we have is a constant challenge. I wish I knew how to automate this better, but currently I send summary notifications around the beginning of each semester informing instructors precisely what is on reserve for their particular classes. We also promote the service more generally at various meetings, but a targeted approach seems the most effective, with the added benefit that instructors are supplied with a contact (me) if there are any problems or issues.

2) Some faculty members have expressed reservations about assisting the library with the project due to concerns about not wanting to negatively impact a publisher's bottom line. This is very generous to the publishing business, but it is also a misunderstanding. I wish I had the data to back this up, but I strongly suspect this service does not replace the need for a student to purchase a textbook for class. Our circulation numbers bear this out: At the beginning of the semester, usage of the textbooks peaks, but then it tapers off. My theory is that for most students, textbooks are an unexpected expense, and the library's copies are a stop-gap while they get the money together to buy their own. Frankly, it's a hassle to rely on the library's copy of a textbook for an entire semester, limited to using it in the building for only a matter of hours per check-out. (I have seen studies that demonstrate how using libraries encourages, rather than discourages, media purchases. I wonder if that logic would apply to this situation. In any case, it seems absurd to portray the library as a villain attempting to put the book store out of business.)

3) In the context of the overall college ecosystem, the service is the most popular with students. The benefits to the library are that it draws students in where they potentially discover our other services and holdings, and it makes the library relevant to current classes. Both of these seem invaluable for a commuter school where retention is an issue. But it is the fact that the service assists students in a meaningful way that keeps me motivated. A lot of lip service is paid to supporting students, but this one is real. I hope we can keep it going.

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