While college libraries may reopen at the start of the autumn term, measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 mean that access to physical text books will be restricted for some time yet.
It’s expected that many library services will continue to be delivered online and that ‘real’ books will be quarantined for up to three days between borrowers, so it’s probable then, that colleges and learners will increasingly rely on e-books and other digital resources.
Current barriers being faced by colleges
Sadly, there are still barriers to smooth access to digital resources1. Colleges that have a managed identity provider system (IdP) in place provide staff and students with a recognised login, which gives automatic access to resources regardless of where they’re logging on or from what device – including mobile phones.
But learners at about 50 UK colleges without a managed IdP system only have automatic access to e-books and digital materials when using college equipment or while on the college estate.
The problem is obvious, so my hope is that college leaders get together with their IT teams over the summer to smooth out such wrinkles before the start of the autumn term.
A new solution: the Jisc virtual library
In direct response to this blocker, Jisc has put together an FE-specific offer on the OpenAthens service. Once installed, it allows students to use their existing colleges credentials to access all library resources, whether on or off site.
In May we launched a new, free product, which will also be useful in supporting distance learning and, importantly, saves library staff time. The Jisc virtual library, which can be integrated with virtual learning environments (VLEs), includes links, grouped by subject, to Jisc’s entire curriculum-mapped e-books for FE catalogue and vocational learning resources.
With this tool, learners and staff alike will find it easier than ever to find the material they need – and Jisc updates the links centrally on an annual basis, saving a library staff the time and trouble of doing so manually. There’s an area dedicated to GCSE English and mathematics e-books, too.
70 colleges on board so far
I’m really proud of this tool and we’ve been delighted with how it’s been received by the sector – 70 colleges have subscribed already.
We also know that more colleges are interested in making our free e-books for FE service available to learners because, in March, a number of colleges, which had not previously done so, signed up. Presumably, this was in preparation for lockdown and the subsequent shift to remote learning and teaching.
Increased usage of e-books
Overall, the use of e-books increased by 10% in 2018/19 over the previous academic year, and it’s going to be interesting to notice the trend in usage going forward from September.
As is usual at this time of year, Jisc is updating its e-books for FE collection – which is free for all UK colleges – and adding more than 80 new titles to keep the collection current and relevant to benefit colleges and learners alike.
We measure the use of e-books on a monthly basis and we were expecting that, because everyone was learning remotely, usage would have risen during April and May, but it didn’t. We think there are two reasons for this. Firstly, some colleges have struggled to maintain engagement with all their learners, and secondly, there is a significant proportion of learners who are disadvantaged and don’t have reliable access to either devices or adequate broadband connections.
Members can sign up to use the Jisc virtual library via the license subscriptions manager website. For more information about Jisc’s digital resources, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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