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.