Thursday, May 26, 2005

eReserves and the CMS

I guess we do odd things for no apparent reason, especially before 6 AM. After reading an Op-Ed piece in the Times by David Brooks that I thought was gratuitous, I went to the campus Library site, followed the eReserves link, had to authenticate via the Library proxy server to get in because I didn't turn on the VPN from the family computer at home, but then got in without problem. Then, immediately, a page came up which has a course listing of all the courses that use eReserves. I scrolled down. It looked like a long list. I wondered how many. I copied the list and pasted into Excel. Then I sorted to eliminate the blank spaces. There were a little more than 600 entries. Wow! That is a lot.

I can get into any of these sites. The first one I try is from a colleague I know in Ag Econ from way back when I used to teach the graduate Microeconomics core theory course. The page has old tests on it scanned and now in PDF format. This strikes me as odd. Why use eReserves for this rather than the CMS? I went into another site, this time an East Asian Languages and Culture course taught by someone I don't know. This time there are chapters from a book, again in PDF. (I suppose most of the content in eReserves is in PDF format.) That made me feel a little better. The book chapters should be in eReserves so the content doesn't linger in the CMS. There is a better Fair Use argument that way.

The Library breaks the links after the semester is over. It occurs to me that this course is for the spring and compulsive as I am I look it up in the timetable. Sure enough, there is no summer listing of the course but it appears in the spring with the instructor on the eReserve list. The spring semester ended a week and a half ago. I wonder when they do break the links.

Last week at FSI we had a nice presentation about eReserves from Stephanie Atkins who is an Assistant Circulation Librarian. After she described our approach to eReserves, where outsiders can't get in at all, but insiders can get into every class site, Steven McDonald, our featured speaker on copyright, asked why we did that rather than restricting the eReserves of one class only to members of that class (say by putting the list of links to eReserves inside the CMS). During the session we talked about technical issues like the Library not getting course rosters and the Voyager software not accommodating them. (Our eReserves actually are not in Voyager. There is a link out from Voyager to our home grown system.)

Afterwards I chatted a little with Stephanie and said that I recall a discussion with Mary Laskowski about this (Mary is the Coordinator for Media Services in the Library). I believe we allow access to all the courses by analogy to what we used to do with paper reserves. If a book was on reserve and a patron wanted the book but wasn't enrolled in the class, the patron could get at the book. That made sense to me. I was in the role of the patron in that example, more than once.

But I'm still scratching my head on this one as it pertains to electronic reserves. On the one hand, I was told that the eReserves are DEFINITELY NOT a repository. This means the content is not supposed to be discoverable. One can't browse the items other than by the classes that use them and there is no search on the items. All of this is done to remain consistent with Fair Use. But, on the other hand, if somehow I do discover an item I want that is in eReserves, then I have access to it. This is not for Fair Use, not by a long shot. This is for the Library's mission to promote access to all. Somehow this approach represents the Library's balance between these two tensions. I'd never have come up with this one on my own. That's one reason why I'm not a Librarian.

In my pointed headed way of thinking, the access argument just doesn't apply to eReserves. And to make the Fair Use argument tighter, access should be restricted to just members of the class, so on this I agree with Steven and can see that using the CMS for eReserves has some logic to it. But I'm not going to force the issue. There is more to lose in terms of goodwill with the Library than there is to gain by winning a debating point.

There is, however, an issue that really does need to be discussed and understood. Quite a few faculty who have eReserve sites don't have sites in the CMS (and vice versa). So rather than getting the best of both possible worlds, the students get one or the other. Why do some faculty only have eReserve sites? Here are my guesses as to the answer.

(a) This is the natural extension of what these faculty have done historically. They used to use paper Reserves. Now they use eReserves. There is little difference in their perspective on what they have to submit to the Library. And they are all for the convenience this affords the students. This use is sufficient for their needs.

That is probably an explanation for some, but it is not an explanation for all. Stephanie made a point in her presentation that eReserve use is growing, rather dramatically. Something else must explain that.

(b) The instructor has some documents that should be in eReserves for the Fair Use reason. It is more convenient then to put all the document there rather than to have an Illinois Compass site and an eReserve site. Moreover, there is some help from the Library on the eReserve site so it is particularly easy to make.

(c) The instructor doesn't know how to make a Web site, in Illinois Compass, Netfiles, or on the department provided Web server. And the instructor doesn't have the inclination to learn those skills. With eReserves, all the instructor has to do is provide a list of references and hard copy for those things not already in the Library's collection.

I don't know the relative importance of (b) versus (c). Both give me some cause for concern, but for different reasons. The essence of (b) is that faculty are too busy and the more course administrative or course logistic function the campus provides the better, but the consequence is that there won't be a vigorous online component to the course. Online will be used only for content distribution - from instructor to students. As my mission is in large part to get instructors to take next steps in using online in their teaching to engage their students, this thwarts my mission. The essence of (c) is that there are many faculty who are not sufficiently literate in information technology. (One would think this is mostly a problem with senior faculty, but I don't know that for a fact.) Though the EdTech office provides good and effective training, many faculty don't avail themselves of it.

I have never had a discussion within CITES, in our advisory committees, or with colleagues in the Library about faculty IT literacy. (At least I can't recall having any such discussion.) On the flip side we talk about faculty development, a lot, and recently about FSI and why more from my campus didn't attend. Part of the answer may be that there is implicit encouragement not to become IT literate via service such as eReserves that don't make those type of requirements on faculty. If that is true I wonder if the campus benefits from the approach.

No comments: