It was simpler 30 or even 20 years ago, when physical content like books, bound periodicals and microfiche were found on library shelves, accessible via the well-thumbed card catalog.
Today, students accept, and expect, a wide variety of digital sources for their research, from ebooks and databases to multimedia portals and social media sites.
The digital age, in fact, has altered the face of library research. “For the entire history of libraries as we know them – 2,000 or 3,000 years – we have lived in a world of information scarcity," university librarian Terrence J. Metz told Inside Higher Ed. "What’s happened in the last two decades is that’s been turned completely on its head. Now we’re living in a world of superabundance."
But for many college libraries, particularly those affiliated with smaller, more budget-strapped institutions, providing “superabundant” content is a continuing challenge.
In an April 2016 poll conducted during a Library Journal/ProQuest webinar, “What Students Have Taught Us: Insights into the User Journey,” more than 300 librarians named their top option for helping students succeed in their career or academic goals.
- A majority – 44 percent – cited “curriculum-aligned content in every subject area.”
- “Tools that improve workflow,” including online resources that aid in content discovery and citation, earned nearly 16 percent of the vote.
- Another 10 percent agreed that vetted, multimedia materials made a difference for students.
A place for print?
Print books, once the staple of the college library, garnered just 2 percent of the survey vote. But, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of print’s demise may be greatly exaggerated.
USA Today reported on a newly opened college library that purchased no print books, providing an ebook collection instead. “The digital resources are part of the university’s mission,” the library director said.
But other schools weren’t as sure that abandoning print was the way to go. “Print has its role and digital has its role,” one library director told USA Today. “Our philosophy is that both are very important and will continue to be.”
Finding the balance
The ideal content, no matter what format it takes, aligns to student needs – particularly within community and technical colleges where timely, industry-specific subject matter supplements and updates the textbook.
- A strategic mix of databases, historical archives, ebooks, print and their corresponding discovery tools can help drive user traffic by providing students with reliable content that nets better study outcomes than open web searches and over-reliance on sites like Wikipedia.
- At the same time, libraries benefit from workflow tools that help them manage collections and analyze usage easily.
For smaller libraries, that “wish list” may sound out of reach financially –but an established content provider can leverage its robust content to offer libraries of all sizes the materials that foster better student achievement – and bring new value to the library.
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