23 things that might make the student experience of our e-resources better

student protests liverpoolThe recent student protests have highlighted for me how students will be ‘paying’ even more for the services we offer, and it struck me that improved access to our e-resources becomes more important for those who are already digging deep.

image credit : Matt_Baldry

It’s important we get this stuff right. There is often a ‘dislocate’ between theory and practice when we talk about access to e-resources  and in my view we need to draw attention to this contradiction, when we draw up our strategies. In a nutshell, if the library ignores the student, they have already walked away.

1.One number on the card that is the same as their student number,their library id,their network id,their printing id.Why should they have to remember different password formats?

2.One library place for searching for stuff,not several places. If you have to have several places/portals,then make them look the same as possible by using similar widgets or html.

3.Avoid AtoZ lists that you scroll down,make them searchable because new students will not know what each resource is.

4.Avoid using publisher names and acronyms or technical jargon that mean nothing to the student.(,what’s an ‘proxy’? What does ZETOC mean?)

5.If you use subject headings on your web pages make them relevant to courses taught or don’t use them at all.

6.If you have cataloguers, use them to index your online presence,make sure what they add to your catalogue record is actually useful to the student.

7.If you can control your web presence,don’t make it blocky or overcrowded. Distractions in the form of different fonts,colours that don’t match give a clear message that you haven’t taken the effort to discipline your design enough.

8.Most students have a mobile phone,& many will have smartphones, if not now when? At the very least,communicate library notices using text, & get a mobile friendly site.

9.Your subscribed content has to be ‘quotable/tweetable/bloggable so that academics can easily link to it on their VLE,MLE. Use stable URLs : if not, students will be left at the ‘front-door’ of the resource and will come back to the library to help them find that article again.

10.Use images to make your information engaging – not just lines and lines of text. That’s a throwback to the days of ‘hypertext’ linked page after page – when we librarians thought we owned the web and were the only publishers of content. Students learn differently now. It’s a web platform, not a novel.

11.Students and paywalls don’t mix. They are getting quality subscription e-resources for ‘free’ by paying to study so they don’t expect to run up against a publisher asking for money. If its possible minimize how the student login is seen to the publisher by using a proxy so that the right screens are returned back,to them.

12.Publicise downtimes and interface changes whenever possible. If you not given enough notice routine for scheduled downtime,as opposed to server fail,complain loudly.

13. If you subscribe to a journal that can only manage a username and password login based on a single ccuser,don’t use it. At the very least, they should be offering you IP-checked access.

14. Use a proxy service which you manage yourself to give you access off-campus via IP if your publisher doesn’t support Athens or Shibboleth.

15. CD-ROMs are for loaning out to the student,not for hosting on a network. If the publisher can’t scale up to a web product don’t buy them.

16.Use anything open like DOAJ, they don’t need a password. If its stuff you own the rights to, don’t bury it in a system that is not interoperable and uses an arcane method of access.

17. If your institution hires a consultant to write a report on your identity management, or how poor your business processes are, listen to them. Don’t forget the student has paid for their course, and will expect a minimum level of things to work together. Shout if they don’t.

18. If people aren’t using a resource, bin it. If there is any money next year you can always bring it back. Don’t hang on to it because one member of academic staff publishes in that journal and we can’t annoy them. Or because we think it only might be useful to us librarians for professional developement. Don’t be a squirrel.

19. Your front-line desk staff and your teaching librarians will take the brunt of the system failures, identity mismanagements, and general unfriendliness of the systems you put in place. If it’s hard to explain, then it usually means we or the publisher have made it difficult to access.

20.Students will go to Google or Wikipedia for information because they are comprehensive, easy and quick. They are prepared to sacrifice some of this ease of use when they try and get through to an e-journal article or chapter of an e-book but only just : they will quickly walk away.

21. If you put up information about anything, be prepared to take it down,edit it almost immediately. Don’t own or feel precious about anything you put up there – or get involved in debates about content/syntax/ownership. Remove it and/or put it back up tommorrow.

22. Work out what your core usergroups are : if you have to spend your energies on groups of students that are not fully registered, do so sparingly. When resources are tight, know your audience.

23. Make your resources discoverable – if the student can’t search across them, they will lose the will to live in navigating across native interfaces. Each publisher thinks they have the answer,and even if more and more are becoming ‘googlized’ and have the obligatory ‘Web 2.0 add-ons’ – the big ones still hide their content away in silos that are hard to reach.

iPad as a reading device

Guest blog post from Jo Alcock at Evidence Base

The eLibrary team have been kind enough to let me borrow the Kindle and the iPad to test them both out, so I thought the least I could do was write a blog post for them.

I’m a librarian currently working at Evidence Base, so my job isn’t a traditional librarian role. I spend a lot of time out of the office – at meetings, events, etc. and working in various different places (often on the move). I’m actually writing this in one such situation, though I’m just on my way into the office this morning. I’m fortunate enough to have a smartphone, which I make extensive use of whilst I’m out and about. One of the tasks I often end up doing whilst travelling is reading. There is a heck of a lot of reading in my job, and I prefer to use my travelling time doing that. I’ve been printing trees and trees worth of paper, and lugging around stacks of reports/articles, and thought an e reader might be a better option.

I tried the Kindle first, and I have to say I wasn’t that impressed. Admittedly, I borrowed the slightly older model, but it’s still only about a year old and it just felt so clunky. I agree with Mark; being so used to a smartphone, I found it very strange to not have a touchscreen. I also couldn’t get my head round the complicated way you had to convert files and email them to yourself rather than just a simple drag and drop. Having said that, for a fiction reading device I can see it could be really useful – battery life was great and it’s so portable. It’s just not good for reading your own documents or anything other than books really. (NB: If you’re interested in a more detailed review, I wrote a blog post on my own blog about the pros and cons of the Kindle).

So, I tried the iPad. OK, so it’s a shiny shiny device and it’s difficult to not get distracted by all the cool stuff it does, but I’ll try to keep this specific to reading. The first thing to note is that there is much more choice on the iPad. Even with books, you’re not tied into a particular store – you can use the iBooks app, or the Kindle app (which synchronises with your Kindle if you have one), or any number of other apps. And with children’s books there’s loads of variety, even specific interactive picture book apps like Alice (which my cats were fascinated by!).

I subscribe to a lot of RSS feeds and sometimes struggle to keep up with them. I’ve weeded out a lot but there are so many great blogs out there, so I need to check them regularly to stay on top of them. On the iPad, I used a free RSS app (MobileRSSFree) that synchronised with my Google Reader account. I’ve tried similar apps on my smartphone but it is pretty small for long stretches of reading. I loved being able to read them on the iPad and the app also enabled you to download your feeds and then use it offline. This meant I was able to load up my feeds in the morning and then read them whilst I was out, even without Internet access.

The main purpose of an e reader device for me was being able to store and read my documents. Through a number of different apps I was able to access my Dropbox account – therefore no plugging in or dragging and dropping required. The model I borrowed was wifi only so you do need to do a bit of planning ahead to make sure you have your documents ready before you leave the wifi zone. I used the GoodReader app, which I don’t think is free but it’s not an expensive app. Through this I was able to load documents from my Dropbox, email, online, anywhere really; then I could read them offline. It worked with Word documents, PDFs, and powerpoints. You can manage your files from within the app, and view them full screen for a better reading experience.

And that’s just one aspect of the iPad. I found it a pleasure to type on, I loved the interface as it’s so intuitive, there are some brilliant productivity apps (for document creation/editing, accessing Sharepoint, to do lists and more), and it’s also nice to have a bit of brain stimulation or relaxation with the puzzles and games. It’s so multipurpose (even cross stitching apps!) and I loved that aspect of it.

Is it a cool bit of kit to help you in your day-to-day working life? Yes.  Are the claims that it is too expensive fair? Possibly, if you compared it to the cost of a netbook. Will I miss it? Yes, I think so, particularly for RSS reading. Do I want an iPad? Oh definitely.