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One of the particular aspects of working in Library Services at a distance-learning institution is that without a physical building, ‘the library’, at the centre of a campus-based student experience, our library is a much less visible entity. So I was intrigued to see the write up on the Guardian’s HE blog reporting on the LISU report ‘Working together: evolving value for academic libraries’ start with the comment:
A common complaint from my librarian friends: too often users fail to appreciate that the resources they use online are only available to them because the library has purchased them. This is aggravated by confusion about what an academic library is. Researchers actively using library resources online may not think of themselves as using the library because they have not recently visited the building
It is interesting to see that as user engagement with libraries is increasingly virtual and digital rather than physical that even those libraries with a strong physical presence are also now having to grapple with similar issues of visibility. It also brought to mind a blog post by Tom Scheinfeldt from earlier in the year about how digital technology makes the library invisible. Apart from a really interesting read and some good ideas about the sorts of services libraries should be offering in the area of collections, scholarly communications and support for data-driven research, there was one comment in the post that really struck me ‘in most cases, the library is doing its job best when it is invisible to its patrons’.
But the visibility of the library is now really important. ‘The library resources are good enough for my needs’ is now a measure in the Higher Education Key Information Set, so if your students don’t know that a particular service or facility was provided by the library, that might affect your score in the National Student Survey. And that makes me start to think about the direction of a lot of what we’ve tried to do over the past few years.
Tony Hirst uses a term ‘frictionless’ http://www.slideshare.net/psychemedia/jibs-keynote-draft to describe an evolving role for libraries and librarians. So alongside lots of ideas about areas that libraries should be working in, he describes many of the restrictions such as access and authentication as friction, in that they act as a means of slowing or regulating access. So we do things like embedding direct links to library resources into the Virtual Learning Environment using links constructed with EZProxy that take students directly to the resource as if they were on campus. We handle redirections and persistence with systems to try to remove some of the friction. But does that come at the cost of visibility? Our approach has been not to force students to come to a specific ‘library space’ but to save their time by saying ‘click on this link and it takes you to the resource you need’. For a frictionless student experience you don’t need to know that the VLE you are using is developed and run by one department and the resources you are using are managed by another. But if you don’t know that the resources are provided by the library, when you have to answer the question of ‘the library resources are good enough for my needs’, what are you going to be saying?